The design thinking process.

They gathered on a Thursday morning at Connect Coworking. They were teachers from different schools, Tucson High, Carrillo Elementary, Mansfeld Middle, Borton Magnet, City High, and they teach a variety of grade levels. Their shared goal: use the design thinking process – empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test – to uncover human-centered approaches to challenges in their own classroom or school. Finding desirable, feasible, viable approaches to address itchy problems is the fundamental objective of design thinking…and the best place to start is by asking questions.

Taylor Johnson and Kathy Moore from CITY High discussing solutions (and having fun!)

On Day 1, inquiry centered around empathy and problem definition, the first two steps in the design process:

  • How do we develop creative confidence alongside our students?
  • How might we…(address an itchy problem)?
  • Who needs to be part of the solution?
  • How would they define the problem from their perspective?

In order to uncover answers and gain new perspectives, the teachers had to notice, reflect, and listen. They designed interview questions and went back to their schools to seek answers from students and staff.

“The interview process helped focus our work and consider options I hadn’t thought of before.” -High school science teacher

Prototyping student-driven solutions to sticky challenges.

After gaining new insights from the folks at school, the teachers went home to rest. They returned Friday morning refreshed and ready to ideate. On Day 2, inquiry centered around the final three steps in the design process: ideation, prototyping, and testing.

  • How might we design approaches that are inclusive and equitable for all our stakeholders?
  • What does our approach/solution assume? How might we test our assumptions?

These questions drove the teachers’ work as ideas emerged and teams created prototypes and rapid experiments. Day 2 ended with reflection on how the process and tools of design thinking might be applied in school settings to improve teaching and learning. Each teacher expressed new insights and an excitement to use the process to promote student agency.

Carrillo Elementary teachers sharing their prototype and workshop learnings.

“This directly impacted my teaching and shifted my mental model as a teacher. I see student-driven learning in a different light and am more confident to try it in my classroom.” -3rd grade teacher

When we give teachers the time and space to empathize and collaborate, they foster creative confidence and a growth mindset in themselves and their classrooms. They go back to their school communities with the tools, experience and mindset necessary to create space for students to drive their own learning in meaningful ways. 


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