“We are all designers.”
Some may balk at this statement. Some may say that they don’t even actually know what that means.
I don’t make that statement lightly. I taught history, am a “techie”, and can’t draw very well (i’m trying though). In the past, I did not consider myself as the creative type.
With that in mind, design is not about making logos, building websites, or creating an inexpensive incubator for countries in the third world. Design is a mindset. It is an approach that addresses how we collaborate, how and what we create.
Design is about creating interactions. Design is about understanding our users. Design is about developing something that will make a difference. As educators, we do this ALL the time. We create lessons and experiences that support our students’ learning. Design is at the core of what we do.
This past weekend at Next Chapter in Atlanta, GA, we heard this over and over again: “ design is a verb not a noun.” I know some people may say, “What does that even mean?” but it is at the core of how we can improve how we teach and learn. Design is about how we interact and create.
To understand and embrace this concept of design takes time. I’ll be the first to admit, seeing ourselves as designers does not come easily. You are not the expert. For some, this may be antithetical to how they were trained, how they have operated, how they have built their career. The outcomes, while undefined, may not be what they suggested or had in mind. It may not come easily. We were taught to have structure and a clearly defined outcome or argument.
Despite that, I ask you to try to let go. Try to embrace the uncertainty of the process. Many of our colleagues cry out for empowering our students, to create curriculum that is authentic. We talk about teacher as “facilitator” or as “guide on the side”. If we are truly to embrace the concept of authentic and student-centered learning, we must be open to letting go: to embrace a process that is messy and does not have a pre-defined outcome.
I am not suggesting that you upend your life to embrace the design process. Rather, find small ways that you can incorporate the process into your life. Start by addressing a small challenge that your colleagues, students, or family is facing. For example:
- Use the process with students and teachers to define how to recreate a space in the library to best suit the needs of the community.
- Build it into a unit for a class you teach.
- Brainstorm exercise with a few of your colleagues during a faculty or department meeting.
- With your family, reconsider how you use your backyard.
Give yourself the time and space to explore the process in a way that suits your personality and needs. Do not try to copy an approach. Think about who you are and what you need.
If you need guidance, find someone who would be willing to explore this challenge with you. Do you need to research before you begin? See below for some resources. Find an approach that speaks to you and adapt it to suit your particular need.
The idea of design and design thinking is not to uproot our core values but to heighten our ability to create experiences that will extend how we teach and learn. It will empower our students and colleagues. It will create experiences and outcomes that we could never have imagined.
Release. Play. Make. Celebrate.
- IDEO – “Design Thinking for Educators“
- Stanford – “k12 Lab Wiki“
- Prototype – Design Thinking Resources
Photo credit: Hugh MacLeod