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VIEWPOINT: District working to create design thinkers


One of the challenges we face in education is how to approach professional development in a way that meets the needs of teachers who are at varying points in their level of experience and careers, while ensuring we are keeping pace with the changing needs of our students. As educators, we understand how to deliver content, but teachers don't always have an extended period of time to learn and reflect, which demands a different approach for the training and new learning to be effective. Capitalizing on the concepts of design thinking is one of the ways we help all teachers learn new skills. It will also improve and refine their problem-solving abilities to create a deeper understanding of what each of their students need to truly personalize the educational experience.

Brian Boothe, our director of professional development and accountability, recently created a guide outlining how and why we are using design thinking as a professional development tool as we implement standards-based instruction. The remainder of this column is from the guide and provides detail on the process of design thinking.

Design thinking is difficult to pin down through one definition or process. The general process is described below, but it is important to know that it is "a complex and nuanced approach to learning rather than a checklist of executable tasks. When executed with a clear understanding of its purpose as a method for fostering empathy, creativity and innovation, design thinking can be a powerful tool for learning and change." (Lahey, 2017)

In design thinking, participants first learn to observe interactions and interview people. The purpose of this phase is to deeply understand what a person is doing, thinking and feeling. The phase is empathy, where you can understand what it feels like to be in someone else's shoes or to live their lives.

The second phase is to define what the person is thinking, feeling or doing. This phase takes time to reflect and think through what has been observed. You need to ask, what challenge is the person truly facing?

The third phase is to ideate. This means once the challenge a person is facing is identified, one attempts to come up with as many ideas as possible to overcome the challenge. Some of the ideas may be awful or unrealistic. Some of them might be great. The idea is to allow participants to unlock the creativity in all of us. This helps to overcome the barriers that often prevent ideas from coming out.

The fourth phase is to prototype the idea. This means creating a rough representation of the idea so it is concrete enough for people to react to. This rough prototype is created to gather feedback and understand what works in the idea and what doesn't.

Using this feedback, the final phase is testing. Modify the idea based on feedback to create the first version of the idea. To find out if this idea is successful, put it out into the world to see how it works. In this testing phase, the idea is not done or final, but is still gathering feedback. It remains open to feedback and questioning in the real world and is often called a pilot.

During these five phases, participants are challenged to think, react, work together in a team and listen to real people. "We know that if we can get individuals to stick with the methodology a while, they will end up doing amazing things. They come up with breakthrough ideas or suggestions and work creatively with a team to develop something truly innovative. They surprise themselves with the realization that they are a lot more creative than they thought. That early success shakes up how they see themselves and makes them eager to do more." (Kelley, 2013)

We are pleased with the outcome of a few of the challenges that we've worked through using design thinking already in District 833. We've changed the model for all day professional development for staff (EdCamps). We're using it to change processes in technology, to study actions related to the achievement gap and through the first production of the PreK and kindergarten progress reports. Design thinking is becoming the district's format to create deeper meaning and greater understanding in much of the work we do. I encourage you to observe our efforts and note the improved outcomes of our efforts.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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