Tag Archives: design thinking

Three Tips to Get You Started in Design Thinking

School districts can sometimes feel like giant ocean liners.  They hold a lot of people, but they can take a long time to change direction.  When there are problems that need to be addressed, the process of “Design Thinking” is gaining a lot of popularity as a framework for coming up with innovative solutions.  The process is not necessarily difficult, but the work can be slow-going sometimes.  This can lead individuals, or entire teams, to believe that the process has failed – especially in a field where we want to see significant results quickly from our actions.

You can start small, or start big.  If you’re thinking about exploring “Design Thinking” as a model for approaching your next problem-solving venture, keep these three tips in mind to get the most from the experience.

Empathy.Empathy.  The best results from Design Thinking come when we spend plenty of time on activities that emphasize empathy.  Who is affected by the problem we’re trying to fix?  This step often involves lots of interviews with such people (often termed “users”, as in “users” of the system or product being redesigned), and observing them while using the current system/product.  If your proposed solutions don’t actually help anyone, why were you working on the problem in the first place?  When the Design Thinking process is working well, empathy has been allowed to shape and define our understanding of the problem.

Prepare to fail, and learn from it.  Failure is becoming something of a popular buzzword in education these days.  Reducing the stigma attached to failures is a noble cause.  When we punish failure, we rarely do so in a way that encourages students to try again.  We generally get the opposite result – students learn to stop trying.  We can’t make failure not stink.  If failure feels good, why succeed?  What we can do is cultivate an attitude of learning from failure, and not letting the prospect of failure prevent us from making the attempt.  Prototyping and the iterative process gives us a chance to try, and if that doesn’t work, to go back and try again with new understanding. [View this Stanford d.school slide deck on “Prototypes”]

Green octagon Go sign.Bias toward action.  I have a strong memory of coming out of one especially long meeting at a previous workplace.  The meeting wasn’t necessarily a productive one.  We left with no proposed solutions.  A co-worker of mine put it best when he said, “Well, we didn’t come up with a solution, but we sure admired the problem!”  Too often, we spend a lot of time admiring problems, and not taking steps to resolve it (perhaps owing to the fear of failure mentioned above).  Bias toward action doesn’t mean that we enact solutions without sufficient preparation or thought.  It means that even our closed-lab discussions are concerned primarily with, “What can we do as a result of this?”  A solution that never results in a change in practice is no solution.

Truly enacting a “Design Thinking” framework requires a shift in thinking away from supporting existing systems to supporting eventual solutions.  The results can be spectacular!

Want to know more about applying principles of Design Thinking in schools?  Check out http://www.DesignThinkingForEducators.com!

Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teachers and Teaching (ECET2)

Several months ago, I got an e-mail out-of-the-blue asking me if I would be willing to present at an education conference here in Ohio.  I wondered if this was someone who had been to a session I led at a previous conference, or maybe someone who knew someone who had.  I was wrong on all counts.  The organizers of ECET2-OAC (What is ECET2? What is OAC?) did what anyone does these days when they are looking for something – they Googled.  My “Five Rules” workshop was unique, it was timely, and I had one other secret ingredient – I live in Ohio, under three hours from the conference site!

So, plans were made, and I embarked on a trip to Burr Oak State Park, not knowing if I would even know anyone there!  But the concept of the event was just so different, I had to see what it would be like.  What I found exceeded my highest expectations!  Here are some of my highlights from attending ECET2-OAC on October 29-30, 2014.

Dr. Irvin Scott. – Dr. Scott provided the opening keynote.  He is theDeputy Director for effective teaching in the educational division of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and is “the guy” when it comes to the whole ECET2 phenomenon.  His story is a testimony to the power of teachers who have high expectations and who are willing to give their students supportive, safe environments to reach beyond what they knew they could accomplish.  Hear him talk.  Follow him on Twitter.

Colleague Circles – A unique aspect of the ECET2 conference was the Colleague Circles.  While I did not directly participate in any of these, they were organized to be a meaningful time for educators from the same building/district to discuss pressing issues with a guided format.  The format led each team to come to some clear and definite decisions about how their practice will change going forward, and how they can be a positive force for change in their school.

Me, holding a rat snake at Burr Oak State Park.Snakes! – Even though technology, especially social media, has made the globe a more connected place, we are still very different in the places we come from.  Being at a state park in Ohio has its advantages; a serene environment, great spaces to connect, and a ranger who lives for the thrill of putting snakes in the hands of visitors!

A Bluegrass Band – For conferences like this, some of the best conversations can happen in the informal settings beyond the “scheduled agenda”.  In this case, the evening’s entertainment was provided by a local bluegrass band!  Not only was their music excellent, they spent a little time telling us about how they hand-made their instruments!

Lots of new Twitter friends! – One undercurrent to the conference was an emphasis on encouraging educators to try out Twitter as a way of connecting with other educators outside one’s typical network.  Here are some of them: Irvin Scott, Tracy Spires, James Herman, Will Sheets, Derek Hinkle, Melissa Sheets, Connie Cunningham, and Sara Beardsley!  Also, check out the OACTeach Chat hashtag (#OACTeach) on Twitter!

New Perspectives – One of my favorite parts of presenting “Five Rules of Design Thinking to Reach All Students” is hearing what the workshop participants do with the material.  I feel like I’m doing a good job as a presenter when I learn something new from the workshop.  Modeling the process of being a “facilitator of learning” rather than being a “gatekeeper of facts” is important for me when I present to teachers.

The ECET2 “conference model” is intentionally different.  It blends some aspects of traditional conferences with some of the “grass roots” level appeal of EdCamp.   The result was a fun, informative, and eventful time spent by teaches, for teachers, and with teachers.  When teachers spend time out of the classroom, this is an effective way to spend that time.



“Five Rules of Design Thinking” – Early Childhood Version

On Friday, March 21, 2014, I will be conducting my “Five Rules of Design Thinking to Reach All Students” workshop at Hopewell Center [5350 West New Market Road, Hillsboro, OH].  This one will have a little different twist to it… all of the activities are being geared towards those who work with students Pre-K through 3rd grade!

This workshop is being offered free of charge, but space is limited and pre-registration is required.  There is no charge to attend.

The day will begin with registration from 8:00-8:30, and the workshop will take place from 8:30-3:30.  Lunch will be provided.

Designing Education dot org.Our primary audience is educators in Ohio Region 14 (Adams, Brown, Clinton, Fayette, and Highland Counties).  Registration is available via STARS.  If you have any difficulty with the STARS system, you can call Hopewell Center at 937-393-1904 and ask for “workshop registration”.  They’ll get you lined up!

More information about “Five Rules of Design Thinking to Reach All Students” is available at designingeducation.org.