Design Thinking

Research Poster: Defining and Designing A New Grammar of School with Design Thinking

Cultures of innovation, cultures that allow change to thrive begin with a culture of empathy. Beginning with empathy is what makes the design thinking framework unique. Usually when we confront a challenge, we come to the table with the problem and solution hand in hand. Design thinking asks us to step back and empathize with those we are designing change for. When we begin with empathy what we think is challenged by what we learn and examine with a beginners mind. 

In 1994, education historians David Tyack and William Tobin wrote, “The Grammar of School,” where they made an observation that like languages, schools have a set of grammatical rules and structures such as dividing knowledge into subjects, age based grouping, the division of time and space. During the industrial era and the years that followed, these became so well established, that despite the rapid changes taking place around us in todays world no one really questions why we do what we do in schools.

Design39 in San Diego California wanted to define and design a new grammar of school with a vision to create life ready thought leaders who elevate humanity. To do this they utilized design thinking, a human-centered framework. Through a survey and interviews with their educators, called Learning Experience Designers I learned about their knowledge and motivation to integrate design thinking into the curriculum, how the organizational culture supports them and what best practices can be learned to scale this work. 

The learning experience designers saw a strong correlation between design thinking and the work they do as educators. It provided them with the terminology and structure to challenge traditional learning experiences as they embraced their role as learning experience designers. 

As you can see from the data, there is strong agreement amongst the educators between developing in demand skills such as creativity, problem finding, collaboration and communication and practicing design thinking. In addition to skills the students are developing a strong mindset of empathy, creative confidence, learning from failure and optimism. 

Seeing their students and themselves enhance and develop the skills and mindset of a design thinker demonstrated the value in using design thinking and fueled their motivation to continue. It strengthened their self-efficacy and helped them embrace, not fear change. 

As Simon Sinek says, “alone is hard, together is better.” This idea manifests itself at Design39 as the organization has a strong and sacred culture of collaboration. In the interviews every LED shared how they had always felt as if they were alone on an island, here at Design39 they each embrace their super power empowering everyone to know their voice and ideas are valued. As you can see from the chart on the left, 66% of the LEDs collaborate several times a day and 30% collaborate several times a week. There are a number of recommendations and the one I’d really highlight is the culture of psychological safety that allows for trust, vulnerability as this really is the foundation for authentic collaboration. 

At this moment in time we stand at a crossroads where defining and designing a new grammar of school is not just about solving an economic or technology challenge, it is about solving a human challenge, where every individual has an opportunity to reach their potential. In 2014, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee who wrote the Second Machine Age said, “While the dynamics of today’s world have the potential to create enormous prosperity, the challenge to societies, particularly businesses, governments and education systems, will be to create access to opportunities that will allow everyone to share in the prosperity. 

At Design39 the LEDs believe deeply that the future is a place we create. 

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