The state of Vermont adopted the Education Quality Standards in 2014 and thus set in motion an education overhaul. We needed it. Schools in Vermont have been working hard to retrofit our systems in order to meet these new requirements, and with the class of 2020 as the first ones who will graduate measured by their proficiencies (proficiency based graduation requirements), this shift is literally just around the corner.
The staff at Lamoille Union knows this, and when we met for inservice last Friday morning, it became ever clearer that this transition will be both complex and challenging. Among the concerns for our staff were issues around communication to parents and community members, changes to our grading and reporting practices, a need for common language, and what will be required of students who receive a high school diploma from LUHS. Although there were many concerns, I believe that this is the first law that holds genuine potential to truly change the way we educate our students. Still, it’s intimidating. It’s overwhelming. And it’s happening next fall.
So how do we as educators get a strong grip on the changes that need to be made and welcome them? Our first solid go at it was inspired by design thinking in a workshop led by Leah Hirsch and Kate Selkirk, two teachers at Quest to Learn in NYC, and in conjunction with the Institute of Play, also in NYC. With their guidance, our faculty experienced design thinking with an introductory wallet design challenge. Pairing up educators who don’t often work together, we opened the door for connection and collaboration, and judging from the positive feedback and laughter, it was enough to break the tension created earlier in wondering aloud what these changes might bring.
The power of play once again leveled the field, and we were able to move on to the real work. Teachers met in interdisciplinary, cross-school groups which provided them the opportunity to have rich conversations void of any baggage. The result was therapeutic. Given license to think about all of the challenges inherent in an overhaul, plenty of sticky notes gave their lives to thoughts and concerns. Grouping them was the next task, after which followed the key to the work: “how might we…?” It is an incredibly empowering question to ask, as within its structure is the idea that the person asking the question already knows the answer. It was the proverbial leather therapist’s divan
As expected, solutions to those problems abounded. Teachers started to see what was possible, dream about how it might happen, and be inspired by one another. The simple use of the word “might” freed us. It wasn’t, “How will we…?” In fact, Leah and Kate pushed the idea of thinking big and bold. So our staff dreamt, and we considered, and we collaborated. We realized that this change could be incredible, and that we have the human resources to handle it. We felt better.
In the end, after we grouped our thoughts into categories and considered what prototypes we might create as we ran out of time, we left for lunch with some important takeaways:
- change can be intimidating, but realizing just how talented the teachers with whom you work are is incredibly comforting as you’re facing it
- approaching a problem with design thinking is good therapy; it reminds you that the answers to your problems lie somewhere within
- trust and a willingness to roll up your sleeves to do the hard work are two incredibly important components to creating lasting change
While design thinking set us on our way toward school-wide change, it is also something that can (and might I suggest, should) be used on a smaller scale in the classroom. Check out Saga Briggs’ collection of 45 design thinking resources for educators if you’d like some ideas about where to start. I’d love to hear about your experiences; feel free to leave comments!