Hope can be hard to find in a sea of grim data. In 2013, school leaders were drowning in numbers quantifying all the ways in which student misconduct was threatening school climate and safety. But rather than dictating a universal approach, CPS saw the opportunity to bring together cross-disciplinary teams of administrators, teachers, parents and students. We used human-centered design to create a common language, aligning these diverse teams around shared values and goals.
I couldn’t have been more skeptical.
Now, I couldn’t be more excited.”
The teams who engaged in our process created incredibly insightful solutions, because they went about the work of problem-solving in a completely different way.
For example, one school team was focused on seeing better behavior at recess. They knew all about who, what, where, when and why misbehavior took place. But here’s what their data hadn’t highlighted: certain kids weren’t causing any trouble at all. Instead, they found them learning to knit alongside a parent volunteer who had decided to share her craft. Based on this finding, the school leadership asked all their recess volunteers to share their hobbies in order to engage students in peaceful activity. This team essentially took an insight from one small group of bright spots, and translated it to the entire student population.
Another team began with the complex challenge of 9th graders dropping out of school. But rather than focusing on the dropouts, they too spent time with their positive deviants, on-track 9th graders, and noticed a pattern: all of them were engaged in at least one after-school activity. This team created an after-school activities fair for prospective freshmen, in order to make the exemplary students’ behavior more of the norm.
In addition to creating and testing solutions to their specific challenges, our workshop participants learned the human-centered design methodology—from framing to prototyping—and began to transfer the process and principles to their own environments. In this way, the workshops built capacity for educators to become everyday innovators.