The future is now, and it looks like youth activism

LISTEN to their power.

I’ve been walking around since Friday with my heart alternately tightening and fluttering as I think about the youth in our world rising up for the Climate Strike. The images are breathtaking; the numbers are staggering. The message is undeniable: our children are pissed. Our earth is melting and the adults in charge aren’t moving quickly enough to address the issue. And these kids are through with the bystander role, with waiting to become old enough to make a difference, because what this generation seems to understand is that they ARE old enough to make a difference.

“What we stand for is what we stand ON!”

Students are taking to the streets (or in our school’s case, the courtyard) to change our world, and it fills my heart so absolutely full of joy to see them exercising their rights to peaceful protest. The educator in me considers all the learning happening…and wonders if they recognize it as such, or if our schools do. I think about the classes that they return to where some of those who were just chanting with full voices will sit back down at desks in rows, raise their hands to offer answers to questions, and in general return to tradition.

Something feels weird. It feels like we are missing the elephant in the room. They were just outside protesting the fact that the earth is melting! Should they be returning to their math class to review the answers to the quiz they took yesterday? Should they return to their English class to pick up where they left off reading Gatsby? As if the globe painted on their face isn’t there? Or the sign that rests against their desk is just an everyday accoutrement?

That polar bear drawing though…

Why do we do this?? It’s NOT a return to normal! Our students should be walking back into our classes and talking about the climate. This might piss off some of you, but the curriculum can wait at an historic moment such as this. In fact, at times like this, I argue that what is happening IS the curriculum. How might we honor our students’ concerns? How might we help them leverage this momentum to incite change? One thing is for certain: we must give them time to reflect on their learning and to process the enormity of the movement in which they have participated.

Education is about so much more than what happens in the classroom.
Photo: Alison Scileppi

I was fortunate to return to a classroom where the teacher gave students time to research Greta Thunberg following the rally at our school. We talked about her actions, her drive, and what she had accomplished. Still, I was left feeling like we had barely begun to understand the impact Thunberg has had, and that all of our youth are having.

So I’m reaching out to you. How are you recognizing the Global Climate Strike in your classroom? How might we continue to empower our youth beyond these momentous occasions? This is a time of great impact in their lives (and ours); what can we as educators do to ensure it doesn’t merely drift by?

I love adolescents.
Photo: Alison Scileppi

DT + Equity: made for each other

Equity is a HOT topic in Vermont ed right now. Just check out the latest from #vted and you’ll see that educators are talking about it, and we should be. The last few years have given rise to far too many instances that shed light on the fact that we as educators have work to do. It has me wondering, how might we use a design thinking lens to bring about our own shifts and to address our own biases?

I talked to my friend, Dan Ryder, last week–someone who always stretches my thinking while simultaneously making me feel like I’ve been asleep for the last few years as a million ideas and advancements happened in education of which I wasn’t aware.

Liberatory Design? I should know that, huh?

I have a huge crush on the Stanford d.school, who partnered up with the National Equity Project to consider how they might elaborate on the design thinking process in order to address equity issues. In so doing, they added two components to the classic DT process: notice and reflect.

The notice phase should happen as the first phase of the entire process. In it, you are checking your biases. From the d.school’s Equity-Centered Design Framework, “This phase focuses on you, the designer, in order to build a practice of self-awareness of your own identity, values, emotions, biases, assumptions and situatedness. From there, begin to reveal your authentic self, accept and build from all you don’t know so you can empathize with humility, curiosity and courage.” Before you even begin to interview your students, try to put yourself in their shoes, or otherwise build empathy, you check yourself. Like, how might my small-town, white, middle class girl from Vermont-ness affect how I’m thinking about this situation/design/my students?

And the other addition, reflectbig fan here. Meant to happen throughout the process as opposed to follow any one component, EquityXDesign created a term–“Equity Pause“–to bring intention to the practice. Indeed, if you are designing, you must constantly be returning to the user to determine your design’s effectiveness, and take the time “notice, focus and reflect on your actions, emotions, insights and impact as designer(s) and human(s) within your user’s context” (Equity-Centered Design Framework).

Design-thinking’s impact in the classroom and in education continues to grow, as it should. We must be constantly asking ourselves how we can better serve our students, and we must also consider that even when we have the best intentions, we do have biases that may undermine our efforts. This is some work we might consider as we try to do and be better.

Resources: everything you need is here at the d.school’s Liberatory Design resource collection. You’ll find their equity-centered design framework, empathy techniques for educational equity, and even some cool liberatory design cards that will get you going immediately. Let’s go!

Image cred: Simon Ray, Unsplash

4 reasons to adopt a design thinking mindset

The new school year is full of hope. Newness. Fresh starts. And like the hesitation you may feel to lay footprints on the newly polished floors, you may hesitate as you consider the best way to dive into your curriculum.

Imagine if that’s how all students felt when they entered school each day…

What if…you embrace design thinking as the underlying approach to your teaching this year? Here are 4 solid reasons why you should:

  1. Design thinking begins with EMPATHY. And empathy requires you to understand your users (in this case, your students). They are complicated human beings, and that understanding will take time to develop. Still, even from the start, when you make the effort to know your students, you invest in them, and that empathy returns to you in student buy-in.

2. Design thinking requires you to be BOLD. When you consider solutions to any problem in class, think boldly! Contemplate ideas you hadn’t before. Ask your students for their ideas. Ask your favorite Twitter gurus. Reach outside your comfort zone.

3. Design thinking exercises your right brain. As you seek to solve problems in your classroom, tap into your creative side. Embrace the DT phrase, “How might we…?” Give yourself permission to think big. Look at things upside down. Examine components in a different light. Scrutinize from a different view point. Coerce your brain into redefining the problem through myriad solutions that you hadn’t contemplated before.

4. Design thinking demands INNOVATION. Whatever you are proposing as a solution to your classroom dilemma, it must be both new and better. And the only way to tell if it’s better is to test it and gather feedback. So take the time to do so. Don’t guess. Share it with your students, imperfect as it may be (you’re being bold, right?) and be brave enough to hear their feedback.

This is a true shift in thinking about HOW you teach. It puts students at the center because DT requires that you always empathize with them. It requires you to think like a designer because that’s what you are doing in creating an experience for your students that continues to engage and fascinate them.

If you’re not familiar with design thinking, here’s a quick graphic that explains the process.

How might you use design thinking in your classroom? Leave your thoughts in the comments!