Implementing Design Work in Schools - Digital Promise

Implementing Design Work in Schools

To engage teachers as designers, instructional leaders need to establish a coherent approach, which the d.school at Stanford describes as “designing your design work.” A key piece of this process is utilizing the strategies within a professional learning community (PLC), where teachers are supported to innovate and feel the work they undertake is not done within a culture of micromanagement and compliance, but rather one of collaborative problem solving in partnership with colleagues and district administrators. The following considerations should be made when planning for implementing design work.

How am I, our designers, and our users situated relative to opportunity and power in our schools?

Set Scope and Outcomes

Before engaging in the design process, ask yourself:

  • What scale of impact would we like to make in this round of design work?
  • How much time is available to undertake the process?
  • Do we want to tackle multiple problems, or work together on one big issue?
  • How will we know if our design work is successful?

Consider: Does this outcome promote equity by focusing more time and effort on marginalized and under resourced communities?

Choose a Structure

Immersing teachers in design work is best done in Professional Learning Communities where there are long-term goals with ongoing touchpoints. Though PLCs can be run in multiple formats, collaboration and opportunities for all participants to share their thinking on a regular basis should be at the forefront. Also consider that design work will often require individual contributions or work between sessions.

Consider: Does the structure I am creating promote equitable participation from all teachers on the team and provide ways for teachers to have input on the designs through multiple means?

Create Your Team

To implement this work effectively, school-based teams need a leader—be it a principal, curriculum specialist, or lead teacher—to guide the design process. It is important to cultivate a spirit of experimentation and collaboration, so the design leader needs to communicate to team members that their participation isn’t part of their evaluation or job performance, particularly in situations where there is a direct reporting relationship. In addition to the design lead who facilitates the activities, you’ll need to identify participant teacher designers. Consider:

  • Whether you want full faculty participation, or a subset of the staff 
  • How the teams represent the faculty in regards to grade bands, seniority, content and other areas 
  • How many teams you may want to create
  • Who is willing to be creative, and think beyond the status quo to innovate
  • Who can be an evangelist for your work should it need to scale

Consider: Is the team that has been assembled representative of the larger staff and student body within my district? Whose voices are privileged within the selected group? Are there voices missing?

Build a Timeline

Reflecting on the scope and outcomes you have identified and potential design challenges you wish to address, consider the timeline across which you want to work. For example, if your design work is tied to a yearly assessment, your timeline will need to include ample time for prototyping if the assessment is intended to test the design outputs. Compressed design and prototyping timelines with multiple cycles of iteration can also be a valuable approach, as opposed to longer-term timelines that can lead to lack of engagement or de-prioritization of the design work in lieu of other teaching tasks.

Consider: Does the proposed timeline put undue burden on teachers, particularly teachers of color who are disproportionately asked to serve on committees?

Select Activities

With a suggested timeline in place, the design facilitator can begin to plan for the phases of the design process identified below by choosing activities to guide teacher teams. In the following section are strategies that district leaders can utilize to build the necessary culture of innovation in their districts, and tools that can be used to design for the future of learning that centers responsiveness to the needs of students.

Consider: As we select and plan activities, how are we centering equity at each step of the process?

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