What if I took a group of teachers and led a design thinking challenge as if they were a group of fourth graders? Would this experience help teachers understand the process and mindsets of design thinking from a different point of view? I wanted to find out.
I planned this design challenge the same way I would plan a design challenge for students.
1. Find an engaging piece of text to use for inspiration
2. Use the design thinking process as a framework for planning
3. Identify the Common Core Literacy Standards we would tackle along the way
We began the challenge by reading a poem by Martin Espada, “Jorge the Church Janitor Finally Quits” and discussing the text dialogically. In dialogically organized instruction, the purpose of the discussion is to understand how the readers are "making sense" of the text. I asked only one question at the end of the reading, “what do you think this text is really about?” and from there, the group took off in a discussion lasting almost 30 minutes.
One of the cornerstones of design thinking is building empathy for others. In order to build empathy for our character, Jorge, the group identified eight words and phrases and made some assumptions about what Jorge might be feeling or thinking.
Then the challenge was revealed: “Redesign Jorge’s work experience.”
The group co-constructed several possible needs that Jorge might have. “Jorge needs to be seen” “Jorge needs to be valued” “Jorge needs to find confidence in himself” were just a few.
Finally, the group broke into small teams to brainstorm and share possible solutions for Jorge.
What surprised me?
Although the group consisted of educators ranging in age from 22-60, the feeling inside the room was oddly similar to a fourth grade classroom! The disagreements, the group dynamics, and the hesitation mirrored what I might typically see in a room of elementary school students. This was unexpected.
One participant reflected…
“Despite it being a safe place to talk about your feelings, I still have hesitation to share. There's always the lingering feeling of being judged for a ridiculous thought. I realize this is a problem with me. ‘There are no ridiculous thoughts’ should be my rule of thumb and yet, there have been so many experiences of embarrassing ideas with friends or even with school, it's hard to escape from the feeling when you want to go public with your ideas. From my seat, I could see so many bright, intelligent thinkers. I was in awe of some of the comments, like from the one participant who was able to see the poem as a view on a group of people rather than just one person. His one comment opened the poem up again for a whole new perspective, because then I was replacing Jorge with "They." The poem then seemed even more sad. I love this part about collaboration and sharing, this ability to have a few words change everything into something different. Not, completely different, but a new light, a new perspective.”
What did I learn?
I learned to trust the process…again! Even though I have taught many design thinking challenges to many groups of people, during the planning process I always have a tinge of discomfort knowing that the outcome of the challenge is unknown. The process, just by its very nature, places the primary responsibility for learning on the students, which is a major shift from more traditional styles of teaching, and this means that the role of teacher needs to be redefined. Instead of being the “giver” of information, the teacher becomes more of a facilitator, or guide, and although this role is magical and desired, it is always a bit scary.
In the face of ambiguity, the design thinking process represents a constant and somehow the learning the comes from a design challenge always exceeds my expectations…always. Design challenges around texts usually result in passionate discourse, internal disequilibrium of some kind, grappling about the meaning of specific words or phrases, strong agreement and disagreement of ideas, radical connections, storytelling and often tears. And this challenge was no different.
At the end of every design challenge, I learn to trust the
process just a bit more. Such was the case here.
What do you think?
What do you think about using design challenges as a framework for planning in K12 education? What is scary and uncomfortable for you? What exceeds your expectations?