Here at Educon yesterday, I had the chance to learn a bit more about design thinking from David Jakes.

David’s central point was that schools and teachers often get stuck in a “Yeah, but…” mindset when thinking about change. Instead of dreaming about what’s possible — taking a “What if” stance towards the challenges standing in our way — we’re all too ready to trip over the hurdles in front of us without even attempting to jump.

David asked each table group to come up with a “What if” question spotlighting a more positive — and possible — future for classrooms and then to break that question down into the tangible steps that schools and teachers would need to take in order to move towards that future.

Here’s a graphic organizer detailing what Kristen Swanson, Patrick Larkin, Larry Fliegelman and I came up with:

(click to enlarge)











Our key question is a good one, isn’t it?

What IF schools created a culture of “DO” instead of a culture of “KNOW?” Doesn’t that action-oriented stance reflect the kind of real-world learning environment that we know resonates with kids?

More importantly, don’t we WANT kids who see themselves as living, breathing contributors to the world around them rather than simply as little people locked away behind our walls waiting to be released?

Of course, we’d have to work to take active steps to redefine almost everything about our schools if a culture of “Do” is really going to be possible.  Grading will need to change — from a focus on content mastery to a focus on demonstration of an ability to apply content in novel situations.

Purchasing and budget decisions would have to change — from a commitment to buying containers holding content (read: textbooks) to a commitment to giving kids opportunities to interact with their worlds.

The rules that govern how kids advance from one grade level to the next would need to change — from an emphasis on hours spent in seats to an emphasis on the use of artifacts to prove levels of mastery that we’re comfortable with.

So this all sounds great, right — but how do you move forward with what seems like such a significant change?

That depends on your role in the system.  As a principal, Larry was ready to start rethinking purchasing decisions starting on Monday morning, placing an emphasis on spending that encouraged doing instead of just knowing.

Patrick — also a principal — was ready to begin moving towards creating a separate track in his high school that parents who were interested in a “doing” experience for their kids could opt into, knowing that it would be non-traditional in almost every way.

Kristen and I are convinced that most teachers could begin creating learning opportunities that allowed our kids to work independently — and interdependently — on meaningful tasks without much trouble.

The key point — as David would argue — is that EVERYONE needs to move forward.  Find a step you can take tomorrow.  Find a step that you take a week from now.  A month from now.  A year from now.

But move forward.  Give up the “Yeah, buts” and start asking “What if . . .”

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