What would the world of teaching and learning be like if teachers saw themselves as designers? What if students learned not just to solve problems but to use the tools of design thinking to become powerful creators and problem solvers? These are some of the questions that led me to create EDEx Educators, a yearlong professional learning cohort for K-12 educators to learn about design thinking directly from design experts. My hope was that introducing teachers to design thinking would inspire educators to embrace the idea of teacher as designer, to use the process with their students, and in turn, to have their students develop design thinking mindsets through thoughtful learning experiences.
This month we celebrate the first cohort of EDEx Educators as they complete their yearlong journey, and I’m filled to the brim with gratitude and awe for this group. Never before have I had the opportunity to work with a more inspiring and engaging group of educators. They have embraced this opportunity as learners and have moved beyond their comfort zones to take risks with each other and their students for the sake of growth. I’ve been honored to work alongside them this year, and I have grown as a result. In the next few weeks, a few EDExers will share insights from the year on this blog. Here are a few of my own reflections to kick things off.
#AlwaysLearning - When I was first introduced to design thinking as Kenan Fellow working on sustainable packaging design with MWV, I quickly learned that design professionals are curious, reflective, and eager to learn. Designers are #alwayslearning. This year’s EDEx Educators embraced this growth mindset from the start as we engaged in a design challenge led by NC State University faculty, Tania Allen, to design “the perfect school chair” for teaching or learning. Watching this group embrace this challenge, and a variety of other challenges from our other guest experts throughout the year, reminded me of how important it is as teachers to begin every day first as a learner. Not only does staying excited about #alwayslearning keep us inspired as teachers, it models the excitement and power of learning for our students. It’s also essential to growing as designers.
Embrace Experimentation - Getting this first year of EDEx off the ground while teaching full time has been quite an experience. If I had to sum up the year in a phrase, it would be “perfectly imperfect.” Many aspects of the experience have far exceeded my initial plans and expectations, while others have fallen short of my personal goals. With more time and more resources this experience, although amazing, could have been so much more. I’ve had to remind myself that these are the same challenges that designers face on every project. I’ve learned through design thinking that we must push ourselves to have a “bias towards action” and to “embrace experimentation.” Often, this means putting faith in the process and launching an idea into the world before we are 100% ready. It’s risky, but it is powerful! And it’s essential to design thinking.
Radical Collaboration - A design thinking mindset that I’ve been reminded of this year is “radical collaboration.” This is the collaborative process that can grow the small seed of an idea into a powerful design by exploring and developing the idea with a diverse group of collaborators. It cannot be done alone. This approach has been transformative in my classroom teaching, and it is what has made EDEx Educators possible. I’d like to give a HUGE shout out to the dedicated design thinkers and innovators who helped make this year possible! Yes you - Yellow Dog : Creative, Hopscotch Design Festival, Tania Allen at NCSU’s College of Design, Laut Design, Community Food Lab, Citrix, Meredith and John Fowler, The Nest Raleigh, Betabox, Landyfingers Catering, and The Burroughs Wellcome Fund. Radical collaboration brings ideas into reality and this year would not have been possible without these amazing partners.
So what will the world be like when teachers and students embrace design thinking in the classroom? If the work of this year’s EDEx Educators is any indication, it’s a world that is hopeful, exciting, and inspiring. Together, we are #alwayslearning.
The following individuals and organizations are champions and supporters of EDEx Educators. Through the gifts of time and/or in kind resources, these local heroes continue to support education innovation in North Carolina. Their generosity will continue to impact the educators and their 1,000+ students each year. THANK YOU! We couldn’t have done this without you.