Innovation & Leadership

This inaugural conference was held in Bangkok and what certainly made it different from the regular offerings by the team at 21st Century Learning was the focus on innovation and leadership. Several schools leaders from across the globe were invited to share their stories followed by practical sessions that broke down their unique approaches to innovative teaching and learning.

Design Thinking PreCon

Perhaps my single biggest takeaway from the summit was the importance of planning for active learning. This was amplified in the pre-conference workshop on Design Thinking I attended led by Susie Wise from the Stanford Design School.

Susie’s workshop was geared towards helping non-designers develop the following “Critical and Constructive Mindsets”

  • A Bias to Action
  • Failing Forward
  • Thinking Big, Starting Small

Behavioural Norms

When we’re asking learners to share ideas and engage it makes sense to setup some agreements for personal interaction. In a prominent place, post and explain the following to your learners:

  • lean in
  • notice our own thoughts and emotions
  • defer judgement
  • let go
  • have fun

Empathy Extension

How would you define empathy?

Pose the question to the class, acknowledging responses before beginning a game of story telling. Working in pairs, one person shares a story of a problematic situation e.g. a travel disaster.

The other partner focuses on listening without interrupting and then attempts to tell the story back owning it with personal pronouns. Facilitator then asks the class for the feelings on what it was like to share the story as well as what it was like to have your own story retold.

Positive Reinforcement

Iteration is a central tenet of design thinking which demands sharing of strengths and weaknesses throughout the design process. However, sharing trials and tribulations with a wider group can be daunting task that fills most with anxiety.

After each group or person shares the results of their prototype testing (name of product/service, what worked and what didn’t) encourage the entire class to do one of the following:

  • Wild applause
  • Clap and whoosh
  • Clap and karate chop
  • Clap and heart boom
  • Choice of the above

Afternoon Afterburner

You know the situation. It’s a Friday and the last lesson of the day. The hearts and minds of your learners are elsewhere, they may still be digesting lunch, feeling the heat of the day and yet you’re hoping to engage them in a meaningful task.

Try using this mega variation of a classic game ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’ to get learners up and interacting. Begin with establishing the rules of engagement, then in pairs play one round of the game.

The loser of the round instantly becomes your biggest celebrity fan cheering on and following the winner who now seeks out another opponent from the class. This grows exponentially until your get one winner.

Power Phrases

My last takeaway from the workshop is the importance of language. The language we use as facilitators of learning is crucial to modelling the design thinking mindset.

Some phrases Susie used which resonated with me:

“Build to Think” – an outcome of ideate phase
“Low Resolution” – neat way to conceive of a first prototype
“Power Pickup” – when you need to get excited about tidying up

Summing Up

Design Thinking has been my modus operandi for the better part of 12 years in education and is a central mindset for innovation and leadership.

Attending the Design Thinking pre-conference workshop helped me reflect on my professional practice as both an teacher and coach. The active learning activities Susie employed in the workshop serve as important pedagogical reminders for educator and leaders in contemporary schools.

If you’re interested you can read more about the experiences I have shaped here.