Friday, April 24, 2015

Design Thinking: "Yes, and..." vs. "Yes, but..."

Having worked in just one school district for my entire career, I credit Leyden for all of my professional development. From in-house PD to conferences all over the country, I've benefited from some amazing experiences with some truly inspirational educators. Sure, I have learned from friends and colleagues on Twitter, but even my PLN and Twitter networks were inspired by people like Jason Markey, who had used Twitter as a learning tool for  years. 

Today, I had an opportunity to work with Eric Burmeister and our Professional Learning Planning Team at Leyden. One of our goals for next school year is to create an "Innovation Incubator" team of teachers that will be given the curricular freedom and lesson design autonomy to create amazing classrooms for our kids.  These teachers will form a PLC that focuses on piloting anything imaginable, from changes to physical learning spaces, to innovative web 2.0 software to things our field has never seen before. Their task is simple: innovate (with a "semi-blank" checkbook and as much freedom as we can provide). 

In following a generally accepted educational philosophy of practicing what we hope to preach, we explored the design thinking model engineered by some of the Silicon Valley's best and brightest innovators. We created a test case that centered around improving the quality and comfort of our students' most coveted space- the cafeteria. Starting from a base of empathy, we asked four of our students open ended questions about their "turf." Our questions aimed to solicit feelings and emotions about our cafeteria in order to guide the design of a cafeteria of their dreams.

By starting with empathy, we were empowered to make changes using the students' guidance, not our own beliefs. We dreamed, and we dreamed big. We followed just one rule during our brainstorming session: whenever someone proposed an idea for the cafeteria, the group's response had to be, "Yes, and..." 

So often in education, we hear "Yes, but..." when we propose new ideas. 

We are all really good at asking questions, and many times, reminding others why new ideas won't work. But even basic changes in education probably started out as a dream much bigger, a change more sweeping, or a cheese moved even farther from its original spot. By dreaming big and thinking wild, we can create a prototype that incites positive energy and pioneering ideas into our design. 

Following the mantra of "Yes, and," we created a cafeteria prototype with food options that were both creative and healthy. We designed a student-centered space with outdoor seating, televisions, and space to relax. There may have even been food trucks, retractable roofs, and organic vegetables growing from our school's roof in some of our prototypes. Dreaming big. Check. Thinking wild. Certainly. But most important-responding to our user's expressed emotions. 

So how do we know that it worked? We invited the students back in the room to judge our ideas. The students were instructed to ask us tough questions and make sure that our design addressed all of their concerns. We wanted their feedback, but moreover, we wanted to know if our design was reflective of their dreams too.

You should have seen the looks on their faces! (because who can resist lunch from a food truck, really?)

We can't protect the status quo because its "the way we have always done things." In looking at the design of anything- be it PLC, a new grading practice, innovative lesson design, or a groundbreaking curricular change- we can start from a mindset of "Yes, and..." 

In doing so, we can find a finished product that empathizes with our audience and maybe even stretches what we originally thought was possible.