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.

It works in architecture and urban planning. It can work in ed transformation, too. #PedagogicalMasterPlanning

From Nancy Duarte’s Resonate, which, by the way, is one of the best books I own, especially in it’s multi-touch book format.

Dan Roam, author of Back of the Napkin, says that, ‘The person who has the ability to verbally describe a problem has a great talent – but also a great limitation. All the real problems of today are multidimensional, multifaceted, and deeply layered. There is no way to fully understand them – thus no way to effectively begin solving them – without at some point literally drawing them out.’

Thought experiment: 

Imagine contemplating a significant remodel or renovation of your home (or school). Now, imagine only dealing in words and verbal descriptions with the various sub-contractors: builders, electricians, HVAC, lighting, flooring, plumbing, casing and carpentry, technology, etc. Also, imagine only naming the remodeling specifics in general-goals terminology. Now, imagine not providing much time, space, or opportunity for these people to ask questions, engage in R&D, meet together and discuss, sketch ideas and check understanding, develop shared knowledge around the transformation, etc. No blueprints, images, infographics, design elements, or visuals. Only words. Inadequate discussion.

How do you think the remodel or renovation would turn out?

Follow-up questions…the deeper thought experiment:

How are schools – those with the greatest intentions and people; those that truly recognize and accept their need for change – how are they going about the transformations of their teaching and learning cores/corps?

Could you show me the designs, blueprints, images, and visuals for those fundamentally important modifications? (I could not have done so as a school principal, and I regret that – I consider it a major failing that I am now working to resolve and re-prototype.)

Can you show dedicated time, space, and regular opportunity for the various members of your school team – faculty, admin, parents, students, etc. – to meet to talk, compare notes, ask questions, attend “practice or rehearsals,” develop shared understanding, etc.? (We did work really hard at this during my last principalship. The Junior High faculty deserves so much credit here for the collaborative, professional-learning-community work that was accomplished.)

Wrap-up question:

How might we commit to and devote the same vigor for community engagement and transformation design in our teaching and learning core/corp that we use in our physical building and campus development?

It works in architecture and urban planning. It can work in ed transformation, too.


From @SAISnews – Interview about #PedagogicalMasterPlanning

Recently, Holly Chesser, Director of Member Engagement at SAIS (Southern Association of Independent Schools), interviewed me about Pedagogical Master Planning. SAIS published the interview in the March 2013 edition of their SAIS Headlines newsletter.

The original Internet source of the interview is here, and I’ve embedded the PDF below. For those of you interested in the development of Pedagogical Master Planning, Chesser’s interview provides an overview and update on the radical rethinking of strategic planning.

Many thanks to Holly, Damian Kavanagh, and everyone at SAIS for all they do in education.