Part 2 of HCD21 Year 1 Report: Addressing specific expectations

The following represents an addendum to the original grant report. This addendum addresses the specific expectations for the “Student Achievement Improvement through Human-Centered Redesign” project outlined in your letter dated October 6, 2015. Portions of the responses below were taken from the original report and placed in perspective around the identified expectations.

Our primary focus for this first year was to begin the process of building from a student-centered perspective an entirely new process and structure. The first year was structured around the need to understand and frame the problem from a stakeholder point-of-view, question our assumptions about the historical structure of K-12 education, contextualize existing research, challenge our assumptions, build a share understanding of the users of our district’s educational system, identify patterns in our data and draw insights, and begin exploring concepts and potential solutions by evaluating our current methods and innovations, while at the same time beginning to ideate new or substantially revised solutions.

In the responses herein, it is important to understand that some represent process items, some imply tools to gather information, and the others are aspirational. More than a few are veering toward “solution,” something we have been cautioned by IDEO, the d-School, and NewNorth Center against entering into prematurely within the human-centered design process. The overarching guide to our work to date has been to make the “why” of design understandable and actionable not only for our HCD21 leadership team but for all of our district users and stakeholders. Consequently, year one has been an exciting but carefully orchestrated process for creating a very different culture as to how the entire district thinks about the critical work of student learning, through the lens of human-centered design.

All of our actions will hinge on a district-wide strategic (re)design over the next three to five years, so the development and embedding of the HCD21 process has been one of the major outcomes of the grant work itself. Design, in the end, will not rely on a few willing participants. It will be what characterizes the district and makes us unique within the public education system.

This summer’s DesignQuest and development of a Learner Profile (planned for the week of August 1-5) will be pivotal in transitioning from conceptualization towards more tangible results from testing and piloting new teaching, learning and structural designs in the reporting of outcomes. These will be the first tangible steps towards district-wide redesign.

Examine all current educational structures to determine, from a learner’s point of view, which are valid.  A valid examination of all current structures happens in the context of understanding students’ preferred learning patterns, learning aspirations, individual strengths and what we know about good pedagogy.  During our first year significant attention has been given to understanding needs and aspiration of both parents and staff.  It wasn’t until closer to the middle of the year that we began gathering helpful data from students.  That data gathering will continue early into the second year of this grant.  Specifically data and perspective collection from students is being accomplished as follows:

  • Feedback from a day of shadowing elementary, middle school and high school students by members of our entire district administrative team.
  • Results of interviews with high school students after viewing the award-winning documentary, Most Likely to Succeed.
  • This summer we will work with over 100 our students throughout the district using a “Buy a Feature” experience in order to gather student data on preferred areas of interest as well as learning methodologies.
  • Interviews with and additional shadowing of students will continue into the first part of the coming school year.

Because the process elements of our work are continually overlapping, the prototyping of new learning structures and environments will take place this fall following our August DesignQuest challenge while student interviews continue.  Both of these are key elements of the very culture moving forward that will describe how we think about and conduct our work.   The language fostering examination of all structures will be included as goals in our Board of Education’s strategic vision/design.

As an example, our HCD21 pattern finding activity has already moved our professional staff towards seeing digital technology as a learning accelerator, connector, relevance-producing engine, and more critically a creation and curation catalyst, instead of the traditional use of classroom technology as a consumption device. As a result, this hunger for student engagement has nudged the district towards adding Performance and Creation as measures of student achievement growth.

Our first year’s work has moved Godfrey-Lee Public Schools into a small but growing subset of design thinking educators.  Through these new interactions we are intentionally gaining multiple perspectives from what others both inside and outside the educational world see when they look at school.  There is now an expectancy that all constructs which tend to divide and separate learning (i.e., age grouping, silo-like content areas, building and classroom structures, time, and traditional assessment of content consumption versus actual learning), will be challenged and new flexible constructs that emerge will be supported by a culture of district-wide, continual ideation and prototyping.

Analyze the natural-born learning preferences, tendencies and practices of children to determine which can be replicated to scale within and around the schoolhouse.   Our human-centered design work has allowed us to begin to imagine what this might be:

  • Observations of students in an outdoor learning environment to determine patterns of engagement.
  • Piloting of non-traditional learning experiences through the Cardboard Challenge, Digital Learning Day, and our unique Senior Capstone Exhibition.
  • Summer “Buy a Feature” experience to gather student data.
  • Our own work to develop a Learner Profile focused on the understanding of “learning” as what takes place, through experiences, to enable humans to create meaning and then build a rubric around that learning profile.
  • We can only imagine that our DesignQuest this summer, where we begin the actual practice of human-centered design prototyping with over two dozen volunteer teachers and administrators, will expand throughout the district.

Examine the art of teaching with a keener focus on improving the understanding of the all-important teacher-student relationship and its impact on learning. This will become more evident as we move through the ideation and prototyping phase but in our first year’s work, particularly in gaining empathy with the primary users of our educational system, nothing stood out stronger than the need to examine and remove many of the barriers and constraints added over the past 124 years which impede the most important element in learning: the teacher-student relationship. Because of its importance, our work will continue in year two through these and other activities:

  • Additional administrator/teacher/student shadowing to gain personal perspective from points of view of the key users.
  • Add as a specific goal in the Board of Education strategic design (plan).
  • Design and conduct regular, frequent, and effective team-building experiences planned and led by students, teachers and administrators.
  • Focus on relationship building as a key component of teacher and administrator observation and professional growth, designing a teacher-centered rubric to help identify a personalized growth trajectory.
  • Summer institutes for staff to explore the art and science of learning
  • Take steps at the district and building level to identify the barriers and constraints that limit the teacher-student learning relationship and develop strategic processes to minimize or completely eliminate them.

Study and pilot test ways in which schools use time, space and technology more flexibly to design a competency-based learning structure to address the diverse needs of students. Our HCD21 leadership team identified and explored a substantial amount of research and models regarding the personalization of learning.

  • Our DesignQuest ideation and prototyping will provide for some focus on the concept of student choice that was identified during our first year’s work on the project.
  • Our district works with the edLeader21 “4Cs” rubric to develop measures of the end (lasting competencies) rather than the means (content) of learning; our research has demonstrated that employers want these types of skills and we’ll be exploring new methods of integrating them into the learning process.
  • We’ll be participating in Michigan’s Alternative Schools, Alternative Assessment pilot throughout 2016-17.
  • The expansion of our design thinking throughout the professional staff has already seeded the concept and learning benefits of frequently scheduled, student-designed curriculum and learning activities such as the Cardboard Challenge, Day of Play, Digital Learning Day, and our Senior Capstone Exhibition. We look forward to prototyping and piloting additional learning events such as the Global Day of Design and Week of Making during the spring of 2017.
  • Our technology team is establishing and supporting a student-led SWAT (Students with Aptitude in Technology) team to guide and support technology use; this is an offset of our teacher professional learning day this past year in which students addressed how they view technology and the ways they like to use it in learning.
  • We are attending a Personalized Learning Summit this summer hosted by one of the national leading districts in personalized and competency-based learning, Taylor County Schools in Kentucky.
  • Ideating, prototyping and testing competency-based learning through the removal of artificial barriers such as age-based progression and assessment will be part of our Board of Education 3-5 year strategic design.

Determine the most effective ways to incorporate learning design, maker spaces, STEM, the arts, health and technology to address the diverse dreams of students. As a result of much of our design thinking work this year, our staff have a number of initiatives now underway at various levels of progress to include:

  • Establishing a Media Center design team including students and staff to explore how our three media centers should better utilize space and resources to become the hub of learning for the schools as well as our community.
  • Establishing an interdisciplinary instructional design team to ideate and prototype learning structures that remove the barriers between the core content areas so that it will become structured similar to real-world learning and problem solving.
  • Establishing a student design team as part of ideating new ways to increase student voice at all levels of learning.
  • Prototyping and experimenting with methods for linking all experiences and learning to the “6Cs” (communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, creating, and caring) to include a more holistic approach to assessing learning through active demonstration versus inauthentic static assessment.
  • Designing a system of summer camps around the concept of designing and making based on learning that takes personal interests, strengths, and real world problem solving into consideration.
  • Including this expectation as a goal in the Board of Education’s 3-5 year strategic design (plan).

Incorporate challenging learning throughout the curriculum. The early stages of our HCD21 work has demonstrated a strong need beyond the removal of barriers and constraints to incentivize adult risk-taking and innovation throughout the entire district. We have begun to move in that direction as teachers and school administrators have identified and designed non-traditional learning activities, many of which have already been mentioned in this report. Our outdoor learning space is a good example. In the past, teachers felt constrained by their classroom walls and the time limits of a learning day, week, or term. The district, with the support of local groups and property owners, has provided an outdoor learning space with the expectation that teachers and students design the various types of learning that can occur there. Consequently, everything from a traditional environmental science lab to a more non-traditional creative design of what learning outdoors might require have begun taking place in this space. Teachers are giving students opportunities to design their own activities, incorporating unstructured play, and designing critical thinking activities that are used for future learning. In our high-percentage of ELL students, the language skills alone that are being honed during these learning events are significant. In addition, we have incorporated the ideas of adults in the community as to how best to use and maintain this space.

Spinoffs of this type of learning by doing that have been prototyped and piloted this year by our teachers include:

  • Spanish Market Day designed by students to provide an authentic Latino market experience from countries representing Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Puerto Rico and Spain. Our middle and high school Spanish Club members celebrated the countries their families are from by selling authentic cuisines, beverages, jewelry and offering face painting. Students from all grade levels in the district had an opportunity to visit the market and experience learning by doing.
  • Botany students designed a project to learn how to grow healthy foods and support their community at the same time. The class of ninth- through 12th-graders has been growing tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, peppers, kale, broccoli, cauliflower and other herbs and vegetables in the school’s raised-bed gardens and in the schoolyard greenhouse as part of the Deep Roots project, a name that not only implies growing healthy foods but also developing deep roots in the community to promote healthy living. The impact on student learning has already proven substantial: Sophomore Roy Duran said he’s started growing vegetable plants at home. “It’s kind of complicated, but at the same time it’s pretty easy. I’m growing tomatoes and peppers for my family. The main reason why is because of this.” He said he’s interested in seeing the impact the project will have. “We are basically growing our own good food, and we are going to make the community healthier and better.”
  • Several other examples, some of which have been previously mentioned in this report can be found at

Increase college-and-career readiness leading up to, during and after high school by developing a parallel partnership with parents that gives them the tools and techniques to help their children. One of the significant challenges facing all school districts is defining what it means for a child to be college-and-career ready. There is no agreed-upon standard for this although politicians often refer inaccurately to test results such as the ACT or SAT. Many colleges themselves are moving away from that measure and none have adequately decided on what career readiness means.

It’s our goal through the HCD21 project to define in a more holistic manner what it really means for a member of the Godfrey-Lee community to be college and career ready. In our discussions and interviews with families, we see this as needing to be defined on a personalized level for each student given their strengths and dreams for their respective futures. Of course, we also see the need for some standards defined by the community at large which is why we are following the work of Talent2025 and exploring more meaningful learning experiences embedded with the 6Cs: communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, creating and caring. Our ideation, prototyping and live model testing this year will ensure that learning and assessment embedded in the models incorporate these “soft” skills.

Contract with NewNorth Center to facilitate the design process phase, including prototype development, testing and analysis. This was accomplished and will continue through the second year of the project. NewNorth Center and the district collaborated on a series of process steps and framework for the project. The Center has exceeded our expectations and is providing valuable facilitation of our work.

Contract with  a leadership coach who will provide weekly guidance and accountability throughout the first phase of the project. The district opted to engage Mr. David Koetje, former CEO of Christian Schools International, instead of I.E.E. After discussions with Mr. Koetje as well as others who know of his past work, particularly in the area of instructional and change leadership, we felt he was a perfect fit for the work we needed in helping to keep the momentum going and providing valuable leadership coaching. Mr. Koetje has gone beyond the work of the HCD21 leadership team to provide small workshops for other teachers in the district on design thinking and innovation in learning. We plan to continue this relationship with Mr. Koetje through the second year.

Overcome the barriers identified in recent sessions with NewNorth Center.  This requires teachers and administrators to meet at times that require substitutes for the classroom or substantial time spent in evenings and summers outcomes of regular contracts. As expected, this continued to be a struggle and slowed down the design process of our HCD21 leadership team. Unlike corporate design teams that are often provided with a dedicated window of time which supports a more aggressive approach to human-centered design, every member of our staff has a full-time job necessitating spreading out the work of the design team over longer periods of time, and delaying some of the processes that could parallel others, such as rapid prototyping even while some of the work of understanding people and context is occurring. Part of our work in the second year must be to ideate and prototype systems that can be embedded into our K-12 educational culture for carrying on the work of design thinking even beyond the scope of this grant. This will likely include:

  • Incorporating design dialogue and thinking into all of our systems as well as the Board of Education’s strategic design (plan) so that it becomes embedded in all of our conversations, critical thinking, and problem solving.
  • Scheduling more frequent, regular meetings between NewNorth Center, Mr. David Koetje, and the executive members of our HCD21 team to keep momentum flowing, ideate new systems or structures for refining and possibly speeding up the work of the leadership team, and plan out the sustainment of our work beyond the initial Steelcase Foundation grant.
  • Explore the possibility of offering half-year sabbaticals to iterate ideas that arise from our ideation, prototyping and live model testing.

Provide childcare for all meetings that involve parents. The work in our first year did not require this support since our teams visited and interviewed the families in their homes, including the children. However, we are planning in September to hold a community-wide viewing and discussion of the film, Most Likely to Succeed which now has Spanish subtitles to facilitate wider involvement of parents and community members. This will require child care options and we are working with our district community engagement specialist, our school community liaisons, and older student groups such as our elementary student council, middle school service learning team, National Honor Society and senior class to design and host child care activities during this event. We will be able to iterate this design for other HCD21 activities in which parent involvement will be critical throughout the year.

As indicated in your letter dated October 6, 2015, there are several project outcomes that were included in the original proposal. I close this addendum by addressing the progress to date on these.

A new design for the pre-K – 12th grade education system based on input from all stakeholders that successfully addresses:

  • Learning gaps at the time of enrollment regardless of the age or grade level.
    • This will be a critical element of our future design efforts to personalize learning and create a competency-based approach to progression.
    • The Board of Education will include this desired outcome in its strategic design (plan).
    • The district will ideate and create a design plan that:
      • Affirms the strengths of each student through personal interview, StrengthsFinder or other analysis, home visits, and observation.
      • Assesses learning gaps and strengths at entry regardless of the time of year.
      • Provides multi-age extended day and year for experiential learning linked to student interest.
      • Design an overall learning structure focused on individual needs rather than group averages.
  • Persistent achievement gaps as students progress through grade levels.  Substantially contributing external factors include poverty, transiency and limited English proficiency.
    • Expansion and iteration of our Kent School Services Network to focus design of services and support on those specific factors that create barriers and constraints for individual student learning, as well as parent support for learning.
    • Participation in an effort to develop teacher leadership, thanks to a partnership with the DeVos Foundations.
    • Design a transiency profile using existing data to better understand what transiency in our district looks like and how it impacts student learning.
    • Design components to the curriculum that could address the problems associated with transiency, and perhaps the trauma that may accompany it.
    • Ideate and design prototype Saturday classes such as Heritage Language.
    • Develop more robust hiring and mentoring programs for all new hires, using objective assessments as well as interviews to determine candidates who will take risks, develop relationships, and design learning based on experiences and doing.
  • A growing need for a greater percentage of students of color, especially those mired in family poverty, to achieve a higher level of learning outcomes beyond simply the current poorly-defined “college and career readiness” levels.
    • Increase adult understanding of “learning by doing,” experiential learning, following the child, inquiry-based instruction, etc.
    • Emphasize the “why” and “who” of learning rather than the traditional focus simply on the “what.”
    • Redesign all learning spaces using student-led design processes.
    • Reframe learning through the 6Cs using content as a means to these ends; this would include a more holistic approach to assessing learning through exhibitions, making, creating and doing.
    • Create a vision and resulting expectations that affirms how each member of the Godfrey-Lee community will be on a quest to inquire, discover, experience, and act together to create meaning that brings positive growth to self, to community, and to the world.
    • Support all as they nurture learning with energy, imagination and intelligence.

I deeply appreciate the opportunity to share the work of our district and our partners in this human-centered design project. We took this on knowing full well that it will require a lot of work, staying power, imagination, and a willingness on the part of our staff and community to take risks. The benefits are obvious even though the path continues to be somewhat vague. This first year has taught us to trust the design process and use the tools to help move us through the various phases, while keeping in mind our goal is achieve better outcomes for our students, design an educational process that is fulfills the needs of our users, and finally break the mold originally designed in 1894 that does not work in today’s world.

We’re excited about the work ahead of us this summer and look forward to accelerating our progress as we ideate, prototype and design concrete solutions that positively impact our children.

HCD21: Year 1 report on redesigning our educational system

HCD21 Project Update, Godfrey-Lee Board of Education, June 20, 2016



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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2 Responses to Part 2 of HCD21 Year 1 Report: Addressing specific expectations

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

  2. Pingback: Michigan study mirrors the foundational work of our human-centered design | Superintendent's Notes

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