HCD21 Update: Off to see the Wizard

I’m assuming anyone who reads this is familiar with the epic movie, “The Wizard of Oz.” I have found that our early work with human-centered design in our K-12 redesign project is analogous with some of the main ideas and lessons found in Dorothy’s journey.

  • It took the “perfect storm” to move Dorothy (“and her little dog, too) from what the movie portrayed as gray and dusty  (yes, she loved her family but was struggling with typical growing up on the farm issues) to a seemingly happy place full of color, music and wonderment. Yet, there was an undercurrent of oppression and control because of who controlled the Land of Oz at the time.
  • Dorothy’s landing in Oz may have changed much of the scenery at first, and it was thought she may have freed the Munchkins from this oppression when she accidentally killed the Wicked Witch of the East, but her evil sister appeared to remind us that change is often just a perception and merely dabbling around the edges.
  • Dorothy could have easily remained in Munchkin Land and perhaps lived out an seemingly enjoyable life, but she instinctively longed for home and took the advice to “follow the Yellow Brick Road” and seek out the Wizard of Oz. Having no idea what lay ahead, she chose to do just that despite the possibility that her journey would not be easy, and fraught with potential pitfalls. She did not know what the end would bring so she had to have an insurmountable faith in the process.


  • Along the journey, Dorothy learned much about herself as well as the needs of others (the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion). That accumulated knowledge helped strengthen her resolve and develop empathy for the others. Each of the four had diverse goals that required respect from the others and a resolve to complete the journey on behalf of each other despite the risks.
  • Along the way, the Wicked Witch of the West and even the Wizard of Oz threw obstacles in their path, but their determination remained steadfast and they relied on each other to succeed.
  • Some might say that Dorothy’s desire to return to Kansas was backwards. Why should she want to return to that gray and dusty place when she had the beauty of Emerald City at her feet (literally)? To her, basic premise of “home” was a part of her being being but when she finally did wake up back in Kansas, the lessons she learned from her journey changed dramatically how she saw her home, her family and her life in general.

Human-centereuD8Ngarbsd2QvNafRivCkXovGKQLeyQzsj1op2nn00gd design is as much about the journey as it is the goals. It’s a problem-solving method that requires faith in the process and the tools used at each step of the way. While it’s helpful to know the steps that lie ahead, we have to forego any natural desire to “see” what’s ahead at the finish. Instead, we have to recognize the value of each part of the journey in adding to our understanding of what our stakeholders want the outcome to be, increase our empathy for each other, accept the diversity of perceptions and ideas, fight through obstacles as best we can, and stay focused on solving the pressing problems of our 124-year-old school structures.

As Dorothy and her friends found out, everyone is scared at times and it takes courage tomeet the challenges head on. They also learned that many of the answers to those challenges are already in their hands and don’t require the use of fancy shoes, medals for courage, a ticking heart-shaped clock, or a fancy diploma. The synergy inherent in bringing everyone together for the same purpose along with acquisition of important knowledge is often enough.

The key is staying focused on the problem despite circumstances and new infopt_0nG61Ykln0qVHlJsvdy6G-yeDhES8ajZ9rThQHiYrmation that may alter how the problem is perceived, and realizing that along the way new problems may crop up that require attention. Our HCD21 leadership team, which has been meeting weekly since September, has experienced this several times. This past week, we settled (for now) on a simple wording of the central problem: How might we create a structure that helps students learn best?  It will likely be modified as we continue our quest, especially as more and more stakeholders — students, parents, teachers, administrators and members of the general community — give input to guide us along the path.

And where are we on this “yellow brick road” journey. The chart below displays the basic steps and quadrants for the work of the district over the next two years, thanks in great part to the generous grant received from the Steelcase Foundation.

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 7.49.47 AM

HCD “problem solving approach” developed by NewNorth Center

As you might guess from my analogy, we’re still primarily in “Munchkin Land” squarely (pun intended) in the center of this map, although we have taken measures to begin learning about the people and context that help frame the problem as well as the journey. This week, we’ll do some work questioning our assumptions looking for bias and anything else that might impede our journey and ultimately prevent us from reaching our goals. The following week, we’ll look at the process and tools for conducting stakeholder interviews over the months of December through March, along with the work of accumulating secondary research about learning and school structures. All of this work will point towards specific patterns that will guide us into exploring solutions, developing prototypes and testing them out.

Follow the yellow brick road.


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 HCD21 Update: Off to see the Wizard

  1. Pingback: HCD21 Update: Our persistent assumptions about school; are they valid? | 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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