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Want to improve your school's culture? Empower staff (and students) with design thinking

Something exciting happened at this year's New England Association for Schools and Colleges annual conference in Burlington (MA). At this year’s NEASC event, the leadership team placed their conference focus squarely on accreditation goal #1: School Culture. And what was the key strategy for achieving a positive school culture? Design Thinking, of course.

This alignment comes as no surprise to members of the InnovateK12 community. An important component of Design Thinking is the way in which this approach to problem-solving empowers all those involved in ways that elevates a school culture...or a classroom environment.

Today’s school leaders are turning to Design Thinking as a leadership strategy because it resonates with Gen Z and Millennials. As these two generations begin to claim a larger percentage of our workforce, leaders will need to include strategies that appeal to generations that grew up on the internet and expect to have an active role in decision making.

Keynote Speaker and Author Kami Thordarson spoke to the power of Design Thinking at the InnovateK12 2019 Summit. Her recent book Design Thinking for School Leaders is a fantastic

entry into this effective leadership strategy. With her co-author Alyssa Gallagher, Kami suggests that educators are designers by nature, and that they come to the Design Thinking process with a strong skill-set.

When school leaders embrace Design Thinking, they often simultaneously embrace parallel strategies like Distributed Leadership and Crowd-Based Ideation. These approaches work in concert to create a school culture that is engaging and empowering.

Distributed Leadership allows for non-traditional leadership tracks that provide opportunities for younger teachers (i.e. Gen Z and Millennials) eager to get involved. Writing for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Chief Program Officer Felicia Smith et al wrote, “Great leadership is at the heart of every high-quality public school. Within schools, leadership is most effective when it’s distributed among a team of individuals with different skill-sets and experiences but a shared mission to spark and sustain a school-wide culture of learning and improved outcomes for students.”

Examples of Crowd-Based Ideation can be found in the Kickstarter and GoFundMe websites where the power of the internet plays a key role. When school leaders employ a crowd-based tool to engage frontline staff in identifying and solving problems, they are playing to the strengths of their Gen Z and Millennial staff members.

When these 21st century leadership approaches are blended with a roll-up-your-sleeves Design Thinking problem-solving environment, staff members feel a sense of collective efficacy that sparks a highly engaged school culture. Meta-Research expert John Hattie identified collective efficacy as the new number one influence related to student achievement.

Again, congrats (and welcome) to our NEASC conference attendees. Your focus on Design Thinking is a great way to increase success with NEASC Goal #1: School Culture.