limedesign

Newark Leadership Academy

A Principal’s Perspective

For two days in the spring of 2015, Newark Leadership Academy staff, district representatives and five high school students crowded into a hot classroom on our seldom used second floor. We had secluded ourselves to spend two days learning about design thinking and practicing the work of studying, modeling, piloting, and pivoting. The room was lined with tables that had been turned sideways and covered in brown butcher paper. The back table was covered in maker space materials ranging from pipe cleaners, and popsicle sticks to duct tape.

For two days we worked, mostly standing, in groups and did the hard work of really thinking about the needs of our students and trying to imagine learning challenges that might drive learning experiences that meet these needs. We practiced the principles first, designing solutions for challenges faced by the individual members of our team (“Design for one person,” Maureen taught us.) We worked together to develop focused need statements and ultimately to develop models and pilots of our designs.

The effect on our team has been remarkable. Even in the process of the workshop we could see the excitement building. By day two, teachers were designing specific lessons and strategies for their instruction, transforming design activities into tailored learning experiences for the young people we serve.

What’s amazing about our design thinking work is that it more than accomplished our goal of empowering the teachers, staff, and students to design and create innovative approaches to meeting the needs of our young people and it also helped transform our basic operational approach to school leadership, planning, and design.

Design thinking is coming to serve us as a way of life—an organizational philosophy—that drives our approach to organizational change and growth. The members of our administration, with some excellent ongoing coaching from Dr. Carroll, have increasingly stopped trying to solve problems and impose our solutions on the school. Instead we are constantly encouraging the ground level designers to engage with problems, study our young people and their needs, and design specifically for them. “Pilot and pivot” has become a mantra in our building which represents the leadership shift we are making. Like so many schools, our standard approach had been to “Plan, plan plan!” Given all the time spent planning, when we actually put our ideas into practice we were very hesitant to adjust them. The result was an enormous amount of time wasted mirror-gazing, thinking about ourselves and our practices, and very little time trying, learning, adjusting, and trying again.

Thanks to Lime Design, Pilot and Pivot is our mantra and our way. We are learning from what we are doing on the ground, we are making adjustments readily and quickly, and we are slowly transforming our organizational DNA from slow moving and habit driven to rapidly adjusting, dynamic, and flexible.

We cannot appreciate Lime Design enough for the organizational changes they have helped us make and leverage and maybe the best part was that the whole experience was a TON OF FUN!

 

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