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Approaching a New School Year with a “Design” Perspective

By Kim Marshall, TIE columnist

The article: “Lead Like a Designer” by Alyssa Gallagher and Kami Thordarson in >Education Update, July 2018 (Vol. 60, #7, p 1, 4-5),
In this article in Education Update, authors Alyssa Gallagher and Kami Thordarson list the characteristics of what they call “design-inspired leadership:”
- User- or student-centered;
- Recognizes the intelligence in the room regardless of status;
- Focuses on practices that result in learning;
- Begins with possibilities;
- Leads with What if…?
- Prefers action;
- Starts with questions;
- Embraces ambiguity;
- Comfortable with “messy” learning;
- Values great questions and experimentation;
- Has a growth mindset.
They contrast this to traditional leadership, which is leader- or teacher-centered; heavily influenced by organizational hierarchy; focused on “best practices;” answers questions with yes, but, or no; begins with constraints; is slow to act; starts with answers; is fearful of the unknown; prefers things to fit in boxes; takes the safe path; values being right; avoids risk; and has a fixed mindset.
Gallagher and Thordarson suggest five ways that school leaders and teachers can move from traditional to design leadership:
• Shift from problem solving to problem finding. This means resisting jumping to immediate solutions and instead asking questions. A principal might kick off a beginning-of-the-year staff meeting by asking what colleagues are excited about as they start the year, what priorities they have, and how they see their dreams aligning with the school’s vision.
• Orchestrate learning experiences that stretch the status quo. For example, replace the traditional back-to-school night by having teachers offer learning activities that get parents collaborating, asking each other questions, and sharing information about their children.
• Challenge practices that aren’t helpful. Colleagues might be asked to identify a rule or practice that interferes with learning, ask why it exists, and modify it to improve student learning, even if it causes some inconvenience for adults.
• Create rapid learning cycles. A bold new idea that seems impossible for the beginning of the school year might be broken into pieces with feedback solicited after each stage.
• Be a storyteller. “The start of each year is like opening a new book on what learning will look like in your school,” say Gallagher and Thordarson. “If you focus on schedules, rules, and routines, then your students will discover that compliance is the overarching theme of their learning story for the year.” What if the focus were teambuilding to lay a solid foundation of collaboration and communication skills?

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