Why design thinking?

“Educational change depends on what teachers do and think — it’s as simple and complex as that.” 

Michael Fullan, The New Meaning of Educational Change. 2001, p. 115.

ASIJ began incorporating design thinking into teaching and learning a few years ago. Over the past two years teachers have thought about and planned at least one unit of learning that enables students to practice parts or a whole design thinking approach. Some teachers saw this as an exciting challenge, an avenue to develop in students a complex critical and creative mindset, others are not so positive.   

students working on projects

 For some, real frustration and angst has grown and now surfaces at the mere mention of ‘design thinking’. The very term seems to send their eyes rolling back in their heads. I care about how people feel so this has been something I’ve spent time pondering. Why the harsh reaction? Is it because the why ‘we are design thinking’ has either been poorly communicated or misunderstood?  

So why did ASIJ choose to implement design thinking? Well, it’s because we want students to have opportunities to develop a particular type of thinking, thinking that takes into account understanding other people’s perspectives through empathy. In addition, we want our students to be action oriented, and to take a problem-finding approach to engaging with the world around them. Design Thinking by nature takes a human-centered approach to problem-finding and solving, so it seemed a good vehicle to help nurture students and address some of the school’s three strategic objectives.

Students at ASIJ will:

  • Become adept at identifying problems and using innovation and collaboration to design and evaluate solutions
  • Take risks, explore passions, and pursue their personal paths with resilience
  • Develop the capacity to understand diverse perspectives

Yet, somewhere along the way those underlying goals have become muddled with the term ‘design thinking’. For some, the whole thing seemed faddish and jargony.  What to do to make things better then? The question of clarity springs to mind. I like the way Fullan frames clarity in the context of supporting educational change:

“Unclear or unspecified changes can cause great anxiety and frustration to those sincerely trying to implement them. Clarity, of course, cannot be delivered on a platter. Whether or not it is accomplished depends on the process.” (Fullan, 2001, p. 77).

Fullan goes on to argue that “effective implementation is a process,” and “clarification is likely to come in large part through reflective practice” (2001, p. 108). So perhaps that’s the ongoing challenge: how to create opportunities for clarification of why we are ‘doing design thinking’ that capitalize on reflection of practice and collegial conversations. 

More thinking required….

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