The idea that the world around us is changing rapidly is an understatement. We see it in almost every facet of life, from technology to job skills needed for the future. We are even seeing this change filter into schools with new technologies, the 1:1 movement, and even BYOD. However, many teacher remain frustrated because they know what many have yet to figure out… that real change in education will not come until we change how we do school. The frustration many teachers feel is, at its core, rooted in the traditional “top down’ system that preaches standards, standardized assessments, and compliance as the benchmark. This systems tends to lead to curriculum that is boring, of little value, and often dampens the creative spirit of students, not to mention the attempts to make students “fit the system” rather than changing to fit the student. There seems to be little room for student-centered innovation, creating content, and finding “real world value” within the current system. How do we combat this and move past these frustrations? How do teachers begin to spark curiosity and ignite passion in learners? The answer to these questions is to bring change from within the system, and within your sphere of influence. For teachers, this change must start within your classroom.
Design thinking in education is so much more than just how you organize and design your classroom. While the learning space is important, the heart of design thinking is the mindset and approach that a teacher has to learning. What do you believe about your students? What do you think is important to their growth and success? How will you design things to fit the student, rather than forcing student to fit the design? What do you see as valuable assets that you can impart to students?
It is so important for teachers to establish a philosophy and mindset that will guide them. It doesn’t have to be radical or differ from your school or district vision. However, when you believe in an approach with your students, you will find that you are continually looking for ways to impart that into your classroom. It will drive how you interact with students and how you prepare for class. This is so different from just continuing to feed the system that has disengaged so many learners. Using design thinking, not just to create learning spaces, but also to create an environment that will spark curiosity, unlock creativity, and ignite passions in your classroom, will be a critical element of creating unique experiences for students.
One of the core principles of bringing change within the system is the idea of creating experiences for students. There absolutely has to be a paradigm shift from the idea of “creating lesson plans” to “creating experiences”. The idea of having lesson plans is not necessarily a bad thing. However, the issue arises when the practice of creating lesson plans does not leave room for creativity, collaboration, and problem-solving. You are absolutely in control of the environment that is created within your classroom. The value in creating an environment that students WANT to be in cannot be understated. Students have a natural sense of wonder and awe. The last place we want them to lose that is within the classroom. Not only do students innately look for moments of wonder and awe, but they are also creative by design. Our students have never lived in a world where they did not have the tools to create in the palm of their hands. There is so much creativity to be unlocked, wonder and awe to be discovered, and passion to be ignited within students. The shift of paradigm in the classroom from a teacher delivering information to being someone who guides students as they create content and solve problems is essential to creating unique classroom experiences.
COMMUNICATION IS KEY
In order to bring positive change from within your classroom, a culture of communication has to be established. This includes communicating with both parents and students, and often times in different ways. At its core, communication in schools is about transparency. It is breaking down barriers in the student/teacher relationships, and is creating a classroom without walls. Relationship with your students is one of the single greatest tools you have at your disposal to help them grow and succeed. Talk openly with students about expectations and risks you are taking. If you are doing something new, tell them that we’re taking a risk, and we’ll see how it works out. Let them know the goal is to bring them opportunities and activities that have real world value. Tell them how design thinking has shifted your paradigm, and how what your goals are. I have found this provides students with a sense of confidence, both to take risks and to understand that you value them and their experience as learners.
Communication with parents is also vital to the pursuit to bring change. However, this communication has to be put into context. Many teachers remember when the only way to communicate was either a note home or a phone call. That is no longer the case. Given the technology we have available, I would argue that we have a mandate to create a school without walls. This communication goes beyond just informing individual parents about a students progress. It is about telling the story of your classroom and school. Use social media and Youtube to show parents what their kids are doing. I have started making videos using the CLIPS app, uploading them to YouTube, and including them in my emails. Parents are starting to subscribe to our channel so they can see what is going on. Leverage your school Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts to tell the stories of the experiences you are creating. These are the changes that we can make within our classrooms that gain momentum over time and begin to bring change to the system.
Joe Robison is a Middle School Science Teacher in Valdez, Alaska. He is passionate about connecting with kids, building relationships, and innovating in his classroom. He enjoys spending time with his beautiful wife, Wylie, and their four small children. You can follow Joe on Twitter @joerobison907.