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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Designing a Classroom Culture

Middle schoolers can sometimes be mean. When someone is different from them, they sometimes react by excluding them even further.

But. I also know these young people to be extremely compassionate, infuriated by injustice, and endlessly kind. It was my desire to bring this side of my grade 7 students to the forefront of the fabric of our classroom this year.

Instead of dictating a series of classroom expectations or guidelines, I decided to leave this up to my students this year. To do this, I turned to design thinking. During my visit to IDEO last year, something an IDEOer said stood out to me:

You can't design culture. But you can design things that impact culture.

An IDEOer who is a systems designer showed us this video:


So I wondered: what is the milk in our classroom that will get our Scotties, or our students, moving together?

I started by loading us all up with inspiration. I looked for examples of workplaces and classrooms with vibrant, collaborative cultures. I looked for inspiration where wonder, curiosity, and character were at the forefront.

Here's what we did:
After we'd saturated our brains with all this inspiration, we use the Innovator's Compass to make sense of everything we'd learned to design an experiment we could try.

At this point, I introduced a How Might We question. Eventually, my students will be the ones coming up with the HMW question, but this early in the school year, I scaffolded this step for them. Our question was:

How might we design a classroom culture where everyone belongs?


We used the Innovator's Compass to identify what was already happening in our classroom culture (Discover Observations) and then understand what we need next in order to create a culture of belonging (Design Principles).

Sidenote: At this point, I ran my own design experiment. For a couple of days, we renamed our classroom "Quoogle" (Quinn + Google). We used our observations from the article we read about Google to organize our classroom: students could choose the order in which they wanted to do their tasks, students could monitor their bodies to decide when they needed to take a quick body break, and there was a high level of trust and a high level of accountability in getting work done. Students came to work with me in small groups (they decided when, of course) at the Innovator's Compass. After a couple of days, I sought the students' feedback about how the experiment went, using my own observations as data points, too. They loved being able to choose the order in which they did their tasks, but didn't like that I wasn't available to answer questions or support them in independent tasks because I was working with small groups at the Innovator's Compass. They decided that Quoogle would be a good way to work when students were doing independent work, but not small group or whole class projects.

Apologies for the laminator glare.

From there, students got into groups of three. They chose one Post-it from the Design Principles section of the Compass. These were things like, "We need to communicate" or "Everyone needs to feel valued" or "We need to really know one another." Then, they Dreamed Ideas. They came up with lots and lots of ideas about how we could make this need become a reality. They used these Brainstorming Rules to help them here. They drew from the inspiration we gained through the Discovery/Empathy phase of the design process to give them ideas. They diverged as they dreamed big and let wild and crazy ideas be okay.

Then, they narrowed their ideas, by refocusing on the Post-it they chose from Design Principles. They selected one idea that met this need, and got to work Designing an Experiment they could try in our classroom. They also designed a way to get feedback: was the prototype successful in doing what they intended?

Every few days, we're trying another experiment.

One group came up with a plan to get students to know one another by sitting next to a different student each day and learning three new things about them.
A chart to keep track of who each student has sat beside and what they learned about them.

Another group wanted to make positivity the main mode of being in our room. They created a "Positivi-tree," where students can attach positive statements and compliments about one another.

Another group developed a process that students can use to help one another if they are stuck.


One group, inspired by Google's cafes, wanted us to eat together. Most days, students disperse in a lunchroom and eat with friends from other classes. One day last week, this group of students booked a conference room, and we sat around a big table, eating our lunches and chatting with one another about things unrelated to learning. They wanted us to have a chance to get to know one another as people, rather than as learners. They sought feedback from their classmates, and learned that most students really liked the opportunity to break bread together, and thought it would be a good idea if we did this once a month.

Whether these experiments are working or whether I've just got a group of really kind students, anecdotally, my classroom is becoming a place where kindness is the way to be. They have been so supportive of one another. When one student in my other class won first place at a cross country running meet, my other class decided she needed to be celebrated, and we all snuck over to the other classroom to give her a standing ovation. 

What I'm learning is that my students absolutely can be trusted to make collective decisions about the way our classroom works. When students feel like they have agency over the way we work and learn together, they are more likely to be respectful of the norms they create. This is such an obvious realization that it seems almost silly for me to write it, but it's so absolutely not the case in many classrooms. But if we just let our students be our teachers, we will learn so much.








Sunday, November 06, 2016

Inspired by the Teachers Guild

A couple of weeks ago, I had the humbling honour to visit the Teachers Guild at IDEO's San Francisco offices.


The Teachers Guild is an online collaborative environment where teachers can work together to solve our biggest challenges in education today. The Guild sparks the conversation by offering a design challenge, and teachers go through phases of Discovery, Ideate, Build, and Select. The ideas that are refined through this process have the potential in being built out by industry partners. For example, one of the ideas for a challenge that asked teachers to reimagine parent-teacher interviews was built into a template by Piktochart.

As a recent addition to the coaching team at the Guild, I was invited to join in on a coach's retreat, where we would deepen our understanding of design, hone the craft of coaching, and collaborate with one another.

I was so inspired by my time with the IDEO crew and the other coaches, and wanted to take some time to reflect on my biggest takeaways.
The best quotes from Day 1.


Design Thinking Knows Teachers are the Key to Reimagining Education


The BEST quote of all

There is no one better positioned than teachers to reimagine education. If we accept the idea that everything designed can be redesigned, and that nearly everything about education (if not everything) has been designed by humans, then we have the power to redesign it.


You Can't Design Culture, but You Can Design the Things that Impact Culture

IDEO's office has been carefully designed to influence the culture there. It's a place of collaboration and creativity. 

You know the culture as soon as you walk in.

IDEO's mindsets are posted on the wall in the front entrance.

IDEO values the idea of a prototype, and of iteration. The front desk is currently a prototype made out of cardboard.


IDEO's employees are connected with one another visually so they can collaborate easily. Project nests let teams work on a project together.

The Power of the Post-it. Collaboration, brainstorming, and blue sky thinking.
If we want to create cultures in schools that allow for creative risk taking, we must design our spaces, routines, and ways of being to enable this. A lot of the things we have in schools (take the timetable, for example, or students sorted by chronological age, or even the weekly informational staff meeting) go counter to the kinds of cultures we wish to enable. 


Inspiration is Everywhere

I had read the words "analogous research" in many of IDEO's helpful toolkits (Examples: Design Thinking for Educators, the Field Guide to Human Centred Design, and Design Thinking for Libraries). But I never truly understood what that meant until we did a design challenge on Day 2. 

Our challenge was: "How might everyday spaces invite student curiosity and learning?"

All we knew about our day was that we were to show up at Golden Gate Park. We were teamed up, received challenge cards, and set free to gather empathy at the California Academy of Arts and Sciences and the de Young Museum of Fine Arts.

I've done similar challenges with staffs before, particularly those who were wanting to shift their libraries to learning commons. But now I realize I was doing empathy backwards. I would have staff examine their existing library space, looking for opportunities that could spark curiosity and learning. But now I realize that analogous research means seeking out inspiration in places, people, and things that already do curiosity and learning really well. 

That's why we were at the science centre and art museum. We got out of the ruts of assumption - assuming we know what sparks curiosity and learning in young people - and noticed deeply and observed closely what actually does this.



Coach James testing out the earthquake exhibit at the Cal Academy of Science.
Discovering the immersive experience Cal Academy does so well. How might we create such a sense of awe and wonder in our classrooms?


It's All About the People

It's called human-centred design for a reason. The people are the ones who matter. We are better together than we are apart. It's my belief that it is impossible to be creative in isolation - your idea will never be as interesting as it would be if you collaborated with others.
Some of my fellow coaches, James, Maggie, Michael, and Jess.
Inside James Turrell's Three Gems
I was so inspired by my fellow coaches as the IDEO/Teachers Guild staffers during our time together. I am a better teacher, designer, and person for knowing them.


How You Invite Someone Affects How they Show Up

If we go back to our first takeaway, that teachers are at the heart of educational transformation, then this one is closely related. Teachers need to be invited. They need to be invited in a way that helps them recognize their power and see the optimism in this way of thinking. For those of us who create design thinking experiences for others, inviting them in such a way that helps them see why even engaging in a small way helps us all helps build that 
A small example of how you can make people feel special in being included.

So, you're invited. You're invited to help us reimagine what is possible. You're invited to let your creativity, and the creativity of your students, have free rein. Let's do this. 






Sunday, October 02, 2016

At the Confluence

My creativity is in full practice, though I haven't stopped much to write about it here! I hope to get back into that habit.

I did write an article on Medium for the Teachers Guild about Design the Shift, a summer professional learning event I helped organize. You can find out more about Design the Shift. You can read my article entitled At the Confluence.