Friday, February 28, 2014

Using Design Thinking to Inform Future Direction of LASD

Our learnings from 2,535 sticky notes, over 300 participants, days of observation & 60+ interviews.

Earlier this school year, a small team of LASD administrators and teachers met to talk about the strategic planning process for the year.  Three years earlier, our Superintendent, Jeffrey Baier revived strategic planning in LASD and led the development of our “Educational Blueprint.”  This process included representatives of all stakeholders who helped us define our vision (Los Altos School District will be a leader in revolutionizing learning for all students), identified  goals and created objectives to help us reach these goals.  The Educational Blueprint group met twice yearly to share progress, create new objectives and course correct if needed. LASD staff reported monthly to our Board of Trustees on the progress and goals which keep us accountable and on track.  During the past three years, our district has made incredible strides towards achieving our vision.  (You can read about some of these accomplishments here) And yet, even with all of this success we began questioning our approach.  With all of the recent success, we knew we needed to dig deeper to inform next steps to improve student learning and identified design thinking as the appropriate strategy. Design thinking is a human centered methodology for solving problems popularized in our area by the Stanford d. School.   And so we set out to understand & observe.


As a public k-8 school district we have many different users: students, teachers, parents and community. As we moved down the path of developing empathy for our users, we wanted to make sure we were simultaneously gathering broad data as well as doing a deeper dive with our users and created structures to enable both.  We created opportunities for all parents, teachers, administrators and students to have a voice in the process.  We also created a small design team led by Greg Bamford from Leadership + Design to conduct deeper ethnographic research in our district.  Every aspect of this process was geared to help us better understand, “How might we revolutionize learning to meet the needs of all students?”

What we have learned about our own organization in the last few months has been powerful. While this process has taken much longer than a more traditional strategic planning process, I am confident the investment of time will yield more exciting opportunities for students.  There is so much to share from our learnings, but for the purposes of this post  I will focus on the broad input we gathered and will share out the work of our design team in another post.  

For the broad gathering of input, we held eleven input gathering sessions with over three hundred participants.  This process was inspired by and modeled after some of the work taking place at the Design 39 School.  We used the following prompts to generate both conversation and ideas.

  • Why does learning need to be revolutionized for all students?
  • What excites you about revolutionizing learning for all students?
  • What scares you about revolutionizing learning for all students?
  • What changes do you think need to be made to revolutionize learning for all students?
  • What are your learning hopes for your students?
  • What if schools were places where students could….
    • Then we would need teachers who…
    • Then we would need parents who…
    • Then we would need leaders who…
  • An LASD graduate will be able to….

Every single response to these prompts was collected and is represented in the data visualizations.  What was interesting to note is the similarities in responses from parents, teachers and administrators.  Essentially, we all want very similar things for our students and our children. All of the data visualizations can be viewed here, but the ones that excited me most are embedded below.  These images are word clouds representing all responses, but size of the phrase/word indicates the frequency of this response.

Portrait of an LASD Graduate

I can’t help but think of the many ways we can use this portrait of an LASD graduate. How do we develop this student?  What are we currently doing that contributes to this?  What do we need to stop doing?  What do we need to do differently to achieve this for students?

What if schools were places where students could….

Then we need leaders who…

Then we need teachers who…
Then we need parents who…

We will be using these images to generate conversations and next steps with our educational community.  Staff will be reflecting both individually and as a group to generate commitments that will move us closer to our vision.  How will you make your impact on this revolution?

Contributed by Alyssa Gallagher, Director of Strategic Initiatives & Community Partnerships

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