One of the many reasons our 1890s factory model of schools persists is our assumption that anything that’s been around this long must still have validity. After all, your great-grandparents, grandparents, parents and all of your aunts, uncles, cousins and close friends attended schools as we know them. They were (choose one: barely, mildly, sort of, greatly, wonderfully, etc.) successful so why shouldn’t my kids attend the same schools? Yes, why indeed?
What we typically don’t do when we make this basest of all assumptions about what school should be for our the kids who are going through it right now is take a good look around the landscape and see what’s no longer there: the factories and manufacturing firms that needed millions of workers with a basic education. They are gone and what’s in their place these days requires an education for which our schools were not designed.
Well, that’s an assumption anyways. You see, the other part of the equation is trying to determine just what kind of education our kids need to succeed in a rapidly-changing world, where a vast majority of the jobs have not yet been created, but most certainly will not be the jobs of the past.
Schools often do things simply because they’ve always done them. The culture of any given school includes habits and systems that the people in it act out every day. Many of these habits are voluntary rather than mandated — teaching by age groups, for example, or making every period the same length, using bells to signal the beginning and end of periods, having all of the students facing the same direction with the teach in the front of the room, teaching math only in math class and history in history class, and so on. ~ Sir Ken Robinson, Ph.D., Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education. Viking, 2015, p. 57
So the mission (“if we choose to accept it”) is to question deeply our assumptions about what is right and wrong with our schools today (not just Godfrey-Lee but all K-12 schools) and what might we change to better meet the needs of our kids. Our HCD21 leadership team will be hitting the road over the next 2-3 months to test our assumptions and gain greater empathy for the students, families, and staff as they wrestle daily with what they assume to be the purpose of education and how fundamentally intertwined our schools are with their daily lives and future dreams. This is the core of human-centered design and the inspiration for tackling the challenge of redesigning K-12 learning in our community. We have spent most of the fall framing our design challenge and focusing in on the problem that will continue to perplex us if we don’t carry through this process. And while our problem statement will be in flux as we validate or refute our assumptions in the coming months, it’s clear that it does drive toward ultimate impact, allows for a variety of solutions, and takes into account the context we work and live in.
There’s no better way to understand the hopes, desires, and aspirations of those you’re design for than talking with them directly. ~ IDEO.org, The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design, 2015
Empathy is one of the most difficult things we wrestle with as humans. It’s exceptionally difficult to really understand what an individual is going through if we lack empathy skills. Many of us confuse empathy with sympathy.
Having sympathy for another is an act of kindness and compassion. Showing empathy for another is an act of service. With empathy, you extend yourself to meet another where they are and stop for a while to sit with them in their suffering. Both are necessary for your personal evolution, but empathy has the power to transform and elevate us while making the world a better place. ~ http://liveboldandbloom.com/10/self-improvement/what-is-empathy
Once we complete our face-to-face interviews and simultaneously collect secondary research relative to redesigning our learning system, we’ll conduct a meta-data study of the findings to identify specific patterns that relate to our original design challenge and problem statement. If we’ve completed this next phase well, the patterns will guide us to prototypes that can be tested out during our summer 2016 programs and into the 2016-17 school year. While it’s only the beginning, it’s heading in the right direction because the future of our kids is straight ahead, not over our shoulders.
The team will wrap up preparation work for the interview phase during a second consecutive four-hour session this coming week. In addition, as part of our efforts to gather feedback from various end-users of our education system, we’ll be showing the new documentary, Most Likely to Succeed, in the afternoon of December 3 for seniors at Lee High School, and in the afternoon of December 4 for our entire district staff. Adult members of the Godfrey-Lee community who would like to attend the Friday afternoon viewing and participate in the post-viewing discussion session should contact the Office of the Superintendent (241-4722 ext. 5320) for details.
This is a ground-breaking film that questions all of our assumptions about what school should be like, portrays empathy with students, parents and staff of an innovative school, and will help to focus our thinking and conversations as we move forward with our HCD21 re-design challenge.