Bring it Back: Design Thinking + Teacher Growth

Process1Over the past several months, I have been thinking and talking with colleagues about how I will “bring it back”. No, I don’t mean acid wash jeans or 80’s power pop music. Rather, I have decided to focus my action plan on how I will bring the Cohort 21 experience back to my colleagues at my school.

Both the Klingenstein Summer Institute experience last summer and the Cohort 21 model have given me a better understanding of the what makes effective professional development and have sparked an interest in me to learn more about the topic and share my learning with other teachers.

One way in which I have brought the Klingenstein program back to my school is through implementing a “Critical Friends Group” PLC during our staff PD time. Using the same tuning protocol that we used in our last Cohort 21 Google Hangout, a small group of teachers at my school have been meeting regularly to critically analyze each other’s action plans. This builds on professional development we did as earlier in the year on having “collegial conversations.” So far, the response to the protocol has been incredible – teachers are truly learning from each other and making tangible changes in their classrooms to improve.

In order to get a better handle on how I can bring the Cohort experience back, I invited Edwin Bryson, my Vice Principal of Teacher and Staff Development, to attend the most recent Cohort 21 Face to Face session at MaRS.

Leading up to this Face to Face, inspired by conversations with Christina and Derek I had expected my action plan to focus on developing Professional Learning Network (PLN) within my school to encourage collegial conversations among teachers using Twitter and/or Google+. This course of action is still something that I am interested in; however, my debrief with Edwin after the F2F led me to another plan of action: to bring the design thinking process to teachers at my school. 

For some time now, I have been using design thinking in my classroom to help my students build problem solving skills and investigate issues in urban planning, design and sustainability. And I have been inspired by the creative ways that both Ashley and Melissa are bringing design thinking in their classrooms. However, in developing the design thinking framework for the Cohort 21 action plans, I realized how this process can also be applied to teachers wishing to push their practice forward.

IMG_0147At the MaRS session, it was powerful to see teachers like Tia and Elissa making shifts in defining their problems. Moving from “I want to use Twitter in my classroom” to “I want to increase student engagement in the classroom through the use of social media” is the perfect example of how the “empathize” (with your users) and “define” (the problem) can move teachers away from concentrating only on how to use technology, to using the frameworks (SAMR, TIM, TPaK) to think about WHY we use technology in the classroom.

In speaking with Edwin, I realized that the design thinking process could also be applied to individual teacher growth goals for teachers at my school. Edwin agrees that introducing teachers to design thinking as a tool for developing their goals could result in a shifting teachers from from what they want to achieve to WHY they want to do so.

Moving forward, I plan to continue to work with Edwin and hopefully invite a small group of teachers to self-select and participate in a pilot program that would have them use design thinking to address areas for improvement in their practice.

In many ways, this action plan is not only about bringing Cohort 21 back to my school, but also about bringing my experience from my former career at the Design Trust for Public Space back to my teaching. So while I might not be venturing back to the late 80’s, I am making journey back to my roots from the early 21st century.

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10 comments to “Bring it Back: Design Thinking + Teacher Growth”
  1. Les,

    Nice work! I really like your evolving idea for your action plan!

    I’m still working on my next blog about where I’m at with my morphing action plan, but I just did a short PD session with my colleagues and admin team this past Friday (a shout out to @jmedved and @gnichols for their advice and suggestions – thanks!), and I all I could think was “I can’t wait for the next session” and that I’d like it to involve an activity like the one we did with you and the design thinking process at the third F2F (attendance re-vamp)…

    I believe your approach could work, and I see where and how design thinking relates to teacher growth plans. During my recent PD début, most of the feedback from my colleagues (during/after) related to if/how they could use the physical twitter activity in their classrooms if they modified/adapted it for their specific needs/goals.

    I believe it could be similar with your design thinking goals – perhaps you could consider running your attendance activity with your staff (maybe you already have) and then if you had a discussion after, it might just steer itself into the growth plans? Maybe requiring minimal (if any) gentle facilitating on your part? Just a thought (and one I’m considering myself!).

    Keep us posted, and hopefully we can chat about this in a future hangout over the break, as I’m really interested in running an activity like this after the break with my colleagues. (Maybe this interests @mwallace and some other cohortees too!)

    A quick request if you are able/willing, could you post/send the template you used at the third F2F? I know you might have done that already, so apologies if the request seems redundant but I’d love to pass it on to a first year teacher at my school who is pumped about it after sitting in on one of my TDJ3M classes this week!

    Thanks for all the great resources you also included in this post, and good luck as you forge ahead!

  2. Hey Les,
    What a great idea! It fits so well with empowering teachers to drive their own growth based on the issues they are seeing in their classrooms.

    I have really enjoyed working within the framework as it has simplified the process and made me hone in on the users and the problem instead of simply wanting to try something new.

    Looking forward to reading how your plan goes, and to meeting up again in April, it’ll be time to showcase our plans in no time!

    • Hey @ddoucet, thanks for the comment. Glad to hear that the DT framework is working. Can’t wait to see what you’ve done with it. The way that you are brining the Cohort back to Lakefield is an inspiration to me 🙂

  3. Hey Les,

    Reading this post really highlighted for me how important it is for us as teachers to be able to integrate all these separate little parts of ourselves and what we are passionate about into our practices in order to fully embrace our power and efficacy in our roles!

    I feel like Brene Brown speaks to this in one of her books. Maybe it is in “The Gifts of Imperfection” or maybe it is in the book “Flow”. Either way, you should read both of them when you are not too busy being a design thinking rock star!

    • Hi @ckirsh, thanks for the book suggestions. I just added them to my Goodreads list (are you on Goodreads? I bet you’d have some great lists!)

      I hear what you are saying about integrating all the little bits of ourselves. I feel so incredibly lucky to be teaching a course that pulls together so many of my passions…and to be part of the Cohort with so many others that are also so passionate about what they do. Thanks for the reminder 🙂

      Hope that you’re having a fantastic break. I can’t wait to hear about your trip with the students.

  4. This is such a significant post for all of us to read at this time. It points to the importance of all of us to talk to our Admin’ and get them involved in the ‘taking it back’ process. We, at Cohort 21, have it in our goals to empower teachers to spread their learning to others at their schools. The blog is only one way – getting Admin’ involved can lead to other opportunities too. @carolynbilton is a great example of how to bring it back effectively!

    And, of course, design thinking is a great process for approaching integrating Edtech and problem solving. @brenthurley‘s recent post is a great example of this, as is @mrathier‘s. Both are getting their student’s involved in the learning process and using their feedback to tweak their pedagogy.

    Thanks for (as always) a thoughtful and well-timed post!

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