Moving from merely treating symptoms to focusing on the problem: HCD21 Update

It’s human nature that we spend a good deal of time and other resources trying to treat the symptoms of something we deem is a problem. We rarely expend the energy getting to the root cause.

Education reform is notorious for attacking the symptoms instead of banding together to uncover and cure the real problem. We created school choice and charters as a way of avoiding any of the dirty work involved in coming together as a community and addressing the real reform efforts needed in our neighborhood schools. We attacked teachers and principals weakening tenure and collective bargaining, while at the same time installing questionable evaluation systems that have yet to be proven they do anything to improve student learning.  We piled on more high-stakes tests as if weighing the cow will make it fatter, and then instead of refocusing classroom instruction on the 21st century skills children need to be life-long learners and contribute positively to the world they will inherit, we simply ratcheted up our mile-wide, inch-deep curriculum and created more extensive testing.

We’re experts at finding and attacking symptoms; we have yet to discover and cure the problem.

This is why our district is moving forward with the help of our Steelcase Foundation and NewNorth Center partners in a two-year, human-centered design process of rooting out the real problems and redesigning our 19th Century K-12 system to meet the needs of today’s children and tomorrow’s adults.  Our project is dubbed “GLPS HCD21” and our core leadership team consists of teacher, administrator and support staff volunteers who will be spending a great deal of time together in the coming months.

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The team has just completed it’s third work session, which at this point in time is focused on drilling down through all the visible and perceived symptoms of an out-dated educational model to find a consensus on what we believe to be the root problem(s).  In an effort to get to that point, the team has gone through a number of critical-thinking activities led by our NewNorth Center partners designed to ferret out the problem but not solely from our point of view, rather what we believe would come from the primary end-users of our schools: parents, teachers and kids. The statements below were refined from over forty and are helping us to visualize what the end-results should “feel like” once we have determined the root problem(s) and iterated solutions:

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The statements above reflect what we might hope students (1), teachers (2), and parents (3) would be thinking as a result of redesigning our outdated educational system.

Identifying the problem and framing the challenge of redesigning our K-12 system is absolutely critical to our success in creating a learning system that meets the needs of everyone of our students, their parents and our community at-large. These early weeks of the project will help us to organize how we think about the solution (instead of simply treating symptoms as education reform does now), and despite moments of ambiguity will clarify where we should push our redesign. Right now, we’re focused more on the art rather than the science of pinpointing the problem as we search for the inspiration we need to make substantial change, but from here we’ll strive to validate our findings as we move into the research and interview stage.

There’s no better way to understand the hopes, desires, and aspirations of those you’re designing for than by talking with them directly. ~ The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design,

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Our core leadership team for “GLPS HCD21” is representative of all of our schools and district administration. Following the interview phase, we will be asking several parents and older students to join us. The team currently includes:

David Britten, superintendent
Dr. Carol Lautenbach, assistant superintendent
Jody Hankis-Snyder, high school teacher
Vlad Borza, middle school teacher
Diedre Stasiak, early childhood teacher
Jason Cochran, alternative education teacher
Kathryn Curry, secondary principal
Sarah Dewey, elementary reading coach
Susana Chapa, district translator
Peter Geerling, early childhood principal
Andy Steketee, elementary principal
Gabe Snyder, high school teacher
Christi Gilbert, elementary English language teacher

David Koetje, retired Christian Schools International executive serves as our leadership coach. Seth Starner and Jason Kehrer team together from NewNorth Center to facilitate our human-centered design process.


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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7 Responses to Moving from merely treating symptoms to focusing on the problem: HCD21 Update

  1. William Lee says:

    Question? What measurable Instrument will be used to identify your outcomes, How do you know its working for the under achievers and the parents that are not involved, this is part of the identifying the problem and framing the challenge of redesigning

  2. Yes, those are all factors to be considered as we travel through the redesign process. A big part of HCD is prototyping and testing various ideas generated through the inspiration and ideation phases. Based on those results, we’ll continue to iterate, refine, and possibly abandon the parts of the design that are not working as well as they should. Once it’s determined the prototype is scalable, we roll it out across the board. As for “underachiever,” I do not believe that accurately labels any particular student. I prefer to see them as disengaged and that is most likely the result of a 124-year-old school model that does not address their interests, is not building on their strengths, and merely attempts to deliver a one-size-fits-all curriculum in a teacher-centered instructional model within a school system that pushes them through, ready or not. Our goal is to change that.

  3. William Lee says:

    I agree !! How do we transition our students to the work place, it seems that they are not ready for the real world when i see them at the various work sites.

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

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

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

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

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