07 April 2017

Designing for Truth

For the past couple of years, a colleague (and friend) of mine and I have been sharing some ideas around human-centered design at conferences. We've presented to early childhood educators, principals, assessment coordinators, and others. The presentation is not so much a "how to" guide, but rather an attempt to shift the narratives around how we make plans for improvement. So much of the time, we start with data and just roll on from there.

We are conditioned to be data-driven, not data-informed. I always advocate for questions to drive the processes we use, not the data. A human-centered approach starts with questions and concerns and builds from there. As educators, we know---or, at least we think we know---the issues within our schools. Data may show us that not all students are reading on grade level, but the issues may not be exclusively around teaching. Perhaps we need more resources in the library to develop a love for reading. Maybe we think a reading buddy would help kids build social-emotional skills as a way to gain purpose for reading. Lots of possibilities that go beyond "Teach harder." At Tapestry last month, Neil Halloran gave a talk on Emotional Statistics. While the content wasn't specific to human-centered design, it spoke to the practicality of building empathy into the data stories we tell.

What's on Your Radar
In our sessions, we use a bulls-eye diagram cut into six slices. The slices are labeled with whatever topics we think the audience would like to talk about. (If you have enough time, let the audience generate the categories...we usually only have an hour or so and take some shortcuts.) For early childhood, that might be related to kindergarten readiness. For administrators, it's a framework for high school completion. Each person gets some sticky notes and some private reasoning time to generate as many concerns or questions they have about each area. Then, small groups come together to share these while placing them on the radar chart...gradually coming to consensus about the 2 - 3 most critical issues. The example above comes from a session with principals:

Sometimes, we leave a wild card slice so that people can have some space to raise issues that might not fit elsewhere. All of this leads to some great discussion and some thoughts then about how to build action plans around what ends up in the center. If you'd like to try this for yourself, you can download the instructions and radar template.

Design Thinking Comes to ASCD 2017
At this year's ASCD annual conference, Empower 17, there were two sessions incorporating design thinking. The first, Design-inspired leadership, by Alyssa Gallagher and Kami Thordarson,was focused on re-envisioning the role of the principal. Based loosely on the Stanford Design School Model, the presenters defined design as the creation of artifacts that work.

Learn more about the model
They suggested that we have the power to change the rules around how we use our roles as leaders. The design-inspired roles included the Opportunity Seeker, Experience Architect, Rule Breaker, Producer, and Storyteller. Of these, the Storyteller role is the most powerful, as it captures minds and hearts. As someone who reminds people to use data to tell your story as the tagline on her other blog, this last piece spoke to me. I think just as Halloran reminds us that the numbers---the truth---are all well and good, we need to be intentional about making these human connections.

Patrice Dawkins-Jackson and Wendy Kelly led an extended session on Design inspired and habits of mind: Influencing instruction and beyond that combined the Stanford model with Costa and Kallick's Habits of Mind. They described design as a human-centered process using empathy to solve the real problem. Design is not about art (although it can be), but more about creative thinking. They led the group through a model of the process of keeping user needs at the center of the work.

What I appreciated about both of these sessions was that they speak to a shift in the way we think about how we identify our goals and work toward them. Schools, as a rule, are not early adopters of ideas, technology, or much else. As another presenter at the conference opined, schools embrace business ideas (deficit-based approach, data-driven decision making, factory models...) as they are fading. We run many years beyond current trends, but better late than never, right? And if these sessions at ASCD are any indication, conversations about taking a design-approach are much more wide-ranging than I would have guessed. We build humans in education---not widgets. I know that there are thousands of teachers, coaches, principals, and others who see this everyday, but as a system, we are not so good at remembering this outcome. You don't have to be an artist to engage in design---you just have to care about the people affected by your efforts. We can use processes that honor that, as well as the data that are generated.

If you're interested in learning more about design thinking, I highly recommend the resources provided by IDEO. You can even get a group together for a course to apply human-centered design principles to a problem at your school, district or community. Or, in the spirit of the Internet, you might also enjoy Design Thinking Lessons from Our Cats. Giorgia Lupi recently presented on How we can find ourselves in the data, with examples from her own work:

There are additional posts about ASCD 2017 on my other blog. I shared what I learned on my annual roundup of data tools in the exhibit hall, as well as my own presentation on using qualitative data to put the humanity back into the truths we tell.

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