And So We Begin…

For the past year, we have been preparing for a journey that finally got underway last evening. A year ago, I stood before our staff during the annual all-staff opening meeting and made it clear that the 124-year old system of schooling in this country no longer served the needs of kids. It was a system designed for the industrial revolution and a time when millions of minimally-educated workers were needed for a  growing number of factories and other businesses. But the world has changed dramatically in the past fifty years, and even more so over the previous two decades. So at this year’s opening meeting, I reminded our staff that this district can lead the change that’s sorely needed by redesigning our K-12 system to provide all of our students with learning opportunities that no longer meet the needs of our past, but instead prepares them for their future.

Throughout the past year, we have been working with the Steelcase Foundation and an organization called NewNorth Center developing a process to define, explore and test a better system for meeting the needs of our kids, their families and the community at large. We decided on using what’s called “human centered design” or HCD for short over the next two years to accomplish this task. The Steelcase Foundation has provided us a generous grant to conduct our work and a leadership team has been formed to begin the journey.’s HCD is a system centered on Inspiration, Ideation and Implementation, providing a set of tools and processes to move us from problem identification to formulating solutions to testing out prototypes to scaling up our new design. Throughout the process, there will be many opportunities for staff, students, parents and other interested community members to participate in and provide feedback at various intervals. It’s our intent to begin testing a few ideas during the spring trimester and even during our summer extended year programs.

Our first session last evening gave us an opportunity to get acquainted, contribute our individual perceptions of what we would like students, teachers, parents and administrators to be able to say when we achieve our redesign goal, and some of the barriers we know will have to be part of our design, planning, testing and scaling efforts. This photo outlines some of the key words and phrases that were contributed by the team members:

2015-09-16 16.32.39

We also took time to diagram and discuss the design process that we’ll be working with over the course of the next two years, particularly how ideas will incubate and work their way through the thought-process towards reality.

2015-09-16 17.08.56

Only about a third of our team has prior training in the HCD process, so in some reflective thinking the next morning, it was decided that a short HCD bootcamp may be needed to get everyone on the same plane as far as understanding the process and the various tools at each interval.

While the structure and timeline of our work will evolve throughout the process, our goal during the first year is to produce the following deliverables based on a timeline recommended by NewNorth Center:

1. Frame the Problem (Sep 16 – 30, 2015): our objective in this stage is to create a shared problem statement that will serve as guidance for the balance of the project.

2. Question Assumptions (Oct 7 – 21, 2015): this is an early critical stage since many assumptions are what have kept our educational institutions from changing over the last 124 years. We’ll be producing a document that outlines our underlying assumptions and biases using both quantitative and qualitative input and existing research.

3. Know People and Know Context (November – December 2015): this stage will require an extensive time period that will include a variety of interviews with stakeholders resulting in an ethnographic research document that provides the district with a collective shared understanding of system users’ and beneficiaries’ insights, beliefs, dreams and goals of what a school system should be.

4. Pattern Finding (By January 31, 2016): based on the outcomes of the first three stages, we’ll uncover patterns and implications that lead to need statements, making sense of the learning from the point-of-view of the students, families, staff and community.

5. Explore Concepts and Create Solutions (By February 29, 2016): from our insight statements, we’ll explore hunches and develop how-might-we statements and solution frameworks whereby we can prioritize concepts that we can begin to test in a variety of ways. We anticipate arriving at this juncture by spring 2016 allowing for some live model testing and prototyping during the current school year and throughout summer programs. We expect during this process to also explore necessary waivers to governmental restrictions and seek additional partnerships to support prototypes and pilots.

6. Live Model Test(s) and Scaling (March through June 2016; continuing July 2016 through June 2017): it is our intent to reach this point with the capability of iterating and testing some prototypes during spring-summer 2016. This will help provide momentum that will carry us over into 2016-17 where more robust prototyping and larger-scale piloting of redesign measures can be tested as we continue to more specifically define outcomes, measure success, and iterate modifications and new ideas, as well as staffing and funding for sustainment of change.

I’ll be keeping you up to date through this blog as we journey along this transformational process. I’ll also occasionally provide links to short surveys as we continuously seek your input and ideas.

To close this post, the very first paragraph of The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design sums up the mindset we must all adopt to successfully re-imagine and re-design our system to benefit our kids:

Embracing human-centered design means believing that all problems, even the seemingly intractable ones…, are solvable. Moreover, it means believing that the people who face those problems every day are the ones who hold the key to their answer. Human-centered design offers problem solvers of any stripe a chance to design with communities, to deeply understand the people they’re looking to serve, to dream up scores of ideas, and to create innovative new solutions rooted in people’s actual needs.

See also:

Project Re-Imagine: District Embarks on Transforming Education – Grant Will Help With Ambitious School Redesign

School district awarded $250K grant from Steelcase Foundation to transform

About David Britten

Retired U.S. Army Officer, former elementary, middle and high school principal, currently serving as a public school superintendent.
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4 Responses to And So We Begin…

  1. Pingback: HCD21 Update: Identifying and mapping stakeholders | Superintendent's Notes

  2. Pingback: Most Likely to Succeed: More than simply project-based learning | Superintendent's Notes

  3. Pingback: HCD21 Update: Gaining Emapthy | Superintendent's Notes

  4. Pingback: HCD21: Year 1 report on redesigning our educational system | Superintendent's Notes

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