Taking a stand… on teaching

It is not usually my way on this blog to take strong stands for anything but thoughtful dialog, but I am ever more concerned about the state of the teaching profession. To treat teachers like, train them to be, or think that it is good for them to teach in rote, scripted fashion, is a grave, and shortsighted mistake.

While there are certainly some scripts worth following, the REAL School design team and I believe that teacher agency is at the heart of effective teaching and learning.

We see teaching and learning as a form of applied design thinking–requiring emotional intelligence, creativity, and deep insight on the part of the teacher. Not traits that are easily learned or developed and difficult to teach someone in-service.

“Design thinkers” understand organizational design as a process that is iterative and interactive rather than seeing it as a static map of the future (Brown, 2010). In defining design thinking, Brown (2010), the CEO of the international design firm IDEO, writes “I now use it as a way of describing a set of principles that can be applied by diverse people to a wide range of problems… a thought process” (p. 7).

This conception of design-as-principles and design-as-process is important for the creation of schools because it implies an interactive and engagement-oriented methodology that can be a powerful alternative to traditional “strategic” (often considered a misnomer) or “comprehensive” planning (Wiggins and McTighe, 2007 and see also this post from last week).

This iterative creative process is difficult for many traditional hierarchical and bureaucratic organizations. It requires a willingness to create a culture in which experimentation and failure are accepted aspects of organizational life and growth (Brown, 2010). Organizations that want to control every aspect of school operations or dictate every aspect of teacher behavior are not allowing teachers to be designers.

Without the ability to design learning for the specific needs and experiences of the students in front of them, teachers cannot hope to deliver an effective product to the learners they serve.

***It should be noted that Adaptive Path founder and experience designer Peter Merholz has some concerns with the way the phrase “design thinking” is being used in general. He recently wrote about the use of the term and argued that it should not be seen as dichotomous from “business thinking” or any other kind of thinking, for that matter. I love his sense of balance and appreciate his argument. I use Design Thinking here to differentiation from common prescriptive teacher  practices, but respect that it is not a revolution in thinking.


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