Learn, Adapt, Launch, Repeat – Design Thinking at KCS Part 1

HeadandArrowssmallEarlier this year I wrote about our debut with design thinking. For readers still unfamiliar with what that means, here’s my attempt to describe it:

Design thinking is a process that takes a group of people from ‘complex problem’ to ‘solution’ in ways that are exceptionally correlated with success. Design thinking deeply engages all stakeholders, requires them to empathise with all affected, and reins in the more typical ‘rush to conclusion’ so creative win-win thinking has time to emerge.

While the specifics can vary according to task and organisation, the method is clear and comprehensive. Thanks to Project 2051 at the Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS) Leadership Institute last summer, I became acutely aware of its power and potential. Inspired, we have adopted design thinking, adapted it to meet our needs, and launched two new innovations that are rocking our world.

The earlier blog explained how we’ve established a new form of student leadership that allows all interested senior students and staff to work together to make KCS the best it can be. Here’s the design thinking process we’re following:

  1. What is the design challenge?
    1. What problems are you aware of that need fixing?
    2. What challenges are you aware of that are worth addressing?
    3. What opportunities have occurred to you that are worth pursuing?
  2. What do you need to know?
    1. Who is affected?
    2. What are their perspectives?
    3. What research can inform you?
    4. What can you learn from others’ experiences?
  3. What ideas address your design challenge?
    1. What can you think of?
    2. Which are win-win for all?
    3. Get feedback from a larger group
  4. Act
    1. Pilot at a small scale
    2. Reflect and iterate
    3. Expand to address the challenge

We started as a small but intrepid group. Since our November launch, the group has quadrupled in size. The design challenge we’ve chosen to pursue first, identified by a grade 7 student, is the following: “How do we better enable differentiated learning at KCS?” We’ve since conducted a survey with the grade 6 to 8 students to learn more about how they best learn. Later this month, we’ll be launching this year’s Student Voice topic so we can hear from all students about differentiated learning and how to improve it. The KCS by Design members are currently preparing frequency distribution graphs and PowerPoint slides so they can share their findings through presentations to faculty, senior students, and the whole school (separately), as well as through presentation boards in the foyer for parents. Finally, Mrs. Drummond and I have launched a new elective as a prototype that makes more differentiated learning possible at KCS. That exciting venture will be Part 2 in the story of “Learn, Adapt, Launch, Repeat”.

This is what all leadership should be built upon. Engaging, listening to, learning from, prototyping with, and informing the whole school community makes smart innovation possible. I can’t wait to see where this journey goes. The inspiration that began with Project 2051 energises every step of the way.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

What Our Students Had to Say

“Can we get more bugs in the playground?” – JK student

Student VoiceAbout five years ago KCS introduced a way to invite all students into strategic faculty conversations. Taking place usually once a year, a significant area of focus for the school is chosen and feedback is sought from faculty, staff and all students on that topic, with particular attention on how KCS can improve. In the past, topics discussed in every class have included homework, extra-curriculars, the House System and student leadership. This year’s topic is wellness in all its forms: physical, social, emotional, mental and intellectual. In addition to what comes out of class discussions, Student Voice includes a focus group for interested students in grades 6 to 8 who want to discuss the topic in more detail with senior administrators and teachers.

This year’s discussions focused on four questions:

  1. What are the signs of health/wellness at KCS?
  2. What are signs of ill health/unwellness at KCS?
  3. What does KCS do to promote wellness?
  4. What could KCS do to better promote wellness?

Our students had 23 pages worth of things to say. The results of Student Voice have now been shared with all staff and students in grades 6 to 8 and will be used to inform leadership efforts at KCS among faculty and students.

Our youngest students are still three years old. When asked about what they do to make others feel good, answers included cuddling, sharing and “rubbing their friend’s back if they’re unhappy”. Empathy and wellness go hand-in-hand.

Collectively, the students could describe wellness in great detail. They know that eating and sleeping well, getting along, dealing well with conflict and embracing learning are part of being well. But life doesn’t always work that way and they were equally able to describe what it means to be unwell at KCS, and shared examples such as not getting along with others, times when others weren’t kind or respectful, times when they ate unhealthy food and stress around homework and exams.

The students appreciate the many things KCS does to promote wellness, identifying caring teachers, time to be active, ‘I Messages’, class meetings, special events, having fun, effective teaching, the Habits and dozens of other efforts that make a positive difference.

What can we do better? These ideas were interesting and will lead to numerous discussions among faculty and senior students. Some are too tricky to act on anytime soon: a turfed field, a roof patio, a swimming pool and a cafeteria among others. But many can and surely will be done. We actually have a plan in place to get more bugs in the playground – we look forward to announcing that one. It was nice to see that our grade 8s would like more and earlier opportunities to play with their grade 1 and 2 buddies. The students had interesting ideas for changes in the timetable. One idea was to have a shorter day, while another was to have a longer day! A number suggested vending machines with healthy food. The bathrooms and water fountains also got special mention, as did more time outside.

Twenty-three pages is a testament to how much students have to say. We’re listening, and we look forward to working with student leaders to bring more wellness to KCS, bugs and all.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.