Visualizing instruction in our school ecosystem #PedagogicalMasterPlanning

A major aspect of Pedagogical Master Planning involves generating an “as-built set of blueprints” for a school’s pedagogical ecosystem, so that a school can see itself in ways it likely never has before. The pedagogical ecosystem is comprised of the interconnected sub-systems of 1) purpose, 2) leadership, 3) professional learning, 4) instruction, 5) curriculum, 6) assessment, and 7) learning environments.

One way we are conceptualizing the as-built blueprints involves the use of “infrastructure polygons,” inspired originally by Candy Chang’s work.

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In this example, in which Chang visualizes the contrasted city infrastructures in Nairobi and Dakar, one can quickly see that Dakar possesses a much higher density of piped water, electricity, and toilets than Nairobi. For example, about 19% of Nairobi’s population has access to piped water, compared to 84% of Dakar’s residents.

Recently, TED uploaded Jessica Green’s TED2013 talk, “We’re covered in germs. Let’s design for that.

As another great example of using info-graphic polygons, Green employs these visualized data tools to compare and contrast the microbes in various rooms in a building. (You should watch the talk, just to see how this method of data visualization works. It’s fascinating.) The information polygons make it easy to see how classrooms compare with offices in terms of microbial “footprints” or profiles. [Stick with me if that last sentence made you want to click to the next post in your feed reader or email!]

With Pedagogical Master Planning, a dimension of the Discover phase involves capturing information about instructional methodology. Through classroom observation, interviews, self-reporting, etc., we collect data about instructional modes like lecture, lecture and discussion, demonstration, simulation, case study, PBL, role play, graphical creation, etc. After aggregating the data, we can visualize the information using polygons similar to those used by Chang and Green.

Imagine a polygon put to use as an info-graphic that summarizes the instructional methodologies used throughout the school. In a very oversimplified example, one might show that 78% of instructional time is spent in lecture, 11% in demonstration, 5% in case study, and 6% in graphical creation. What invaluable information for a school that is working strategically to become more student-centered and student-directed in its pedagogical approach.

And imagine the power of such visualization in an actual school situation. We could potentially visualize the following:

  1. A student’s user experience as an individual throughout a day. Such an info-polygon could show the instructional modalities that “Suzie” experienced in a day of attending classes. Or a week, or a month.
  2. A particular department’s aggregated picture of instructional methods. Such a picture might reveal strengths in a department so that members of that department become mentors in that methodology for other departments less familiar in practice with that mode. It might also reveal areas for targeted professional development.
  3. An ability to overlay instructional methodology polygons with learning environment set ups (e.g., seating arrangements like seminar, cooperative, senatorial, etc.). Internal action research could be conducted regarding how modifying the classroom layout influences instruction over time.
  4. An in-depth look at how the predominant instructional methods relate to desired outcomes in certain skill sets such as the so-called “Cs” of 21st C learning – communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, etc. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see how much time students actually have to BE primary communicators in a week of school, if the school believes it wants to help students develop advanced capabilities in various communications. [Think about the 10,000 hour rule of developing mastery. Do you know how much time students actually spend practicing these skill modalities?]
  5. Time studies for a school, showing how their instructional methods evolve over time once they become more systemically engaged in studying something like this as a school working to shift or enhance a culture of diversified pedagogy.

Such ideation around information polygons and “as-built blueprints” are only one piece of the potential for Pedagogical Master Planning. By being able to see more clearly what is happening in the actual pedagogical ecosystem, a school can be more strategic in developing it’s integrated sub-systems for the learning that can happen. Being able to see provides clarity from which to plan for innovation and development. Being able to see can help reduce resistance as people are able to gain greater understanding about the current reality of instructional methods used compared to the desired learning outcomes for students. It’s a bit like turning on the lights in a darkened room. The light shed on the situation helps us navigate more agilely and purposefully. We’re less likely to need to shuffle our feet slowly and wave our arms in from of us to keep from running into something unexpectedly.

Building a fragmented ‘non-system’ of well-meaning, specialized programs

Twenty-two years ago [now 25], while analyzing why so little of what is known to work gets applied in practice, Lisbeth Schorr wrote of “traditions which segregate bodies of information by professional, academic, political, and bureaucratic boundaries” and a world in which “complex intertwined problems are sliced into manageable but trivial parts.” Around the same time, Sid Gardner wrote that “we end up contributing our money, and more important, our political and spiritual energy, to building a fragmented ‘non-system’ of well-meaning, specialized programs.” Sadly, both observations are still true today.

From A KIDS COUNT Special Report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation – Early Warning! Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters. 2010.

Design Thinking for the WHOLE School #PedagogicalMasterPlanning

How might schools use design thinking for the WHOLE school?

In the NAIS Commission on Accreditation report A 21st Century Imperative: A Guide to Becoming a School of the Future, we can read:

Perhaps it is time for us to rethink our models and our assumptions about school and about teaching and learning. What should future learning environments look like? How should we organize time to learn? What

types of relationships and communities will nurture our students? What tools do they need? The schools based on industrial and agrarian models that have existed for

centuries may not be the schools that we need for tomorrow. What might we imagine as a different model? And how might the accreditation process serve to mobilize

schools to create a new model or models?

That’s from the National Association of Independent Schools, so I am making an assumption (that I believe in strongly!) that if one is a member of that organization, then one has accepted and embraced the notion of “being on that team” – believing that one is a willing follower of that leader.

So how are our independent schools responding to that call… those questions? How is your school contemplating, or even planning, or even implementing, for such a reimagining and remodeling of “school?”

Many independent schools are buying into design thinking for their students. That’s a great thing! I am a huge and genuine fan of design thinking. As a teacher and administrator, I was a practitioner of design thinking.

But I wonder why more schools and school leadership teams are not actually practicing what they are preaching and teaching – on their entire school. I don’t mean that in any sort of accusatorial way. I’m genuinely curious and wondering why.

How might schools use design thinking for the WHOLE school? To explore as a community the charge and challenge issued by the NAIS COA. If a school committed to such an exercise and process, prototyped several possible new models for school, and then decided that its current model is far superior to any of the other models designed by the community… then, the school could confidently stick with its existing model. But, what if… What if the process reveal new possibilities? Dare I say it… better possibilities.

“Different is not always better, but better is always different.” – Marshall Thurber

Here are just three links to using design thinking with students.

Do you know of any examples like the three above, BUT geared toward an entire school redesign? (If so, please share them with me/us in the comments.)

Now, I would challenge any school leadership team to devoting AT LEAST a meeting to discussing how the school might engage design thinking, not just as a curricular and instructional methodology, but also as a fun, participatory, community-engaging and solutions-oriented means to living an examined life as a school and a leader of adult and child learners.

And I’ll put some more of my cards on the table – the typical strategic planning processes used in indy schools are NOT design thinking.

I believe we need “strategic planning illustrated.” I believe we need the spawn of design thinking and strategic planning. Our design thinking methodology here at Unboundary has produced such a spawn…


[Disclaimer: I think this post, as a thinking and doing prompt, applies to all schools. However, I did write this post specifically with independent schools in mind.]

“A Radically Practical Vision of Education” via @EdSurge @patwater #MustRead

A #MustRead of #MustReads in my humble opinion…

In a world that’s changing so rapidly, why wouldn’t you build our education system around what we don’t know rather than around what we do?

Patrick Atwater in EdSurge 4.2.2013

“What inquiry-based education could look like in the year 2025–and how we get there.”

I think we could get there much more nimbly and quickly than 2025. It would require those who are serious about purposefully using design to work the problem to achieve these new models…in existing schools, not just new start ups. It would require the courage to lead before we reach a place of more crisis-management change motivation. It would require those who want this vision for kids and learners right now.

At intersections of thinking and doing. #SchoolTransformation #PedagogicalMasterPlanning

As I continue the work on Pedagogical Master Planning here at Unboundary’s studio, I engage blogging as a way to think out loud, test ideas, benefit from co-thinking with commenters, and connect dots with other educational leaders. Just this morning, @akytle, @LisaLpez1, and @HollyChesser/@SAISnews offered invaluable insights within this collective exploration and 21st century ethnography of school transformation ( Now, @GrantLichtman adds what I see as an invaluable extension of our ongoing conversations and a critical intersection with the morning exchanges with Angel, Lisa, and Holly. Grant provides a strong “case study” of the work demanded by school communities, of school communities, and for school communities to embrace harmonizing the incredible efforts of administrators, faculty, parents, and students. It is transformation work that insists on collective sense making, systems thinking, strategic designing, and the requisite time and attention to engage in such adventure TOGETHER.