Let's #ShadowaStudent and #ShadowaTeacher


It’s time once again to #ShadowaStudent (runs February 19- March 2).  Shadow a Student was started by School Retool, a professional development fellowship supported by IDEO that helps school leaders redesign their school culture.  This is the 3rd consecutive year of this campaign, where over 5,000 educators have now cleared their calendars for the day and spent it immersed in the school lives of their students.  The goal is to use the information gained from the day to improve the learning experiences for students.

The first time I intentionally shadowed a student was on the first day of a new school year.  I thought it would be interesting to view the “back-to-school” excitement through the students’ eyes.  As a student I had participated in plenty of first days and yet, I was in no way prepared for the reality or the boredom of what I experienced.  I was shadowing an eighth grade student in a traditional middle school setting with a seven period day.  The welcome back excitement from the students arriving at school, carried into the first period class where there was a quick “get to know you activity” followed by rules, syllabus and expectations.  It was very teacher centric, with little engagement or participation from the students.  The class went by fairly quickly but then I realized I would likely be repeating this same class structure six more times in different content areas.  Ugh—my heart sank and by period four I was bored beyond belief.  I found it hard to muster enthusiasm in any of the classes.  What a perfect opportunity for a redesigned experience and one that, unless you look at it through the eyes of the student may not be apparent.

Shadowing a student is a very powerful experience, so powerful that it made me also think about the potential impact of shadowing a teacher.  What would it look like for school leaders, principals or assistant principals, to shadow a teacher for a day?  What might we learn?  Teachers can be critical of school leaders that we have forgotten what it is like to be in a classroom, maybe this would be a way to reconnect with the teaching experience.  Who’s in?  I’d love to hear about your experience whether you #ShadowaStudent or #ShadowaTeaccher!

Make sure to #shareyourlearning!

How Do We Harness the Collective Power of a Community?

See something, say something but then do something!

See something, say something but then do something!

It’s hard to move on from the events last week in Parkland, Florida where seventeen innocent lives were taken in yet another school shooting. It is even harder to understand how this happened.  In retrospect, people say there were concerns, they were warning signs.  Things were reported but nothing was ever done.  Of course the bigger issue is gun control, but since that isn’t a fight likely to be won anytime soon I can’t help but wonder how else might we come together to create a movement—a movement not just to end gun violence in our schools but a movement where parents and students voices are heard about changes that need to be made.  I am so proud of the students in Parkland who are speaking up and I hope more and more will follow suit.

Like many of us in schools, I straddle the work of working as an educator and being a parent of students in school. Last week, I received an email from our elementary school principal that was meant to reassure parents about the safety of our school.  He outlined the steps being taken in Los Angeles Unified School District and asked us to work together as a community with the “See something, Say something” campaign. While I am hopeful this will make a difference community-wide, I am also concerned by the complete hypocrisy of this campaign. I fear it is a campaign that makes for great media sound bites, yet translates into little or no action on behalf of our students.  It got me thinking about the partnerships between parents and schools and why so many parents are frustrated after getting involved, trying to make change without achieving results.

Let’s take the “See something, Say something” campaign as an example.  Here LAUSD is actively encouraging parents to speak up when they see something amiss at their campus, yet below are just two examples of recent times parents at our campus alone have spoken up repeatedly with NO follow-up action on behalf of anyone at LAUSD:

  • Beyond the Bell: Our school runs an after school program for students in grades 2-5. Students are free to play on the yard after school and parents are promised a safe and supervised after school experience for their students.  Yet, repeatedly parents have complained to our principal and on our school survey that “Beyond the Bell” is unsafe.  The school yard gate is unlocked and unsupervised, anyone is free to come and go as they please. The one paid supervisor sits on the far side of the playground where there is shade and pays little to no attention to any adults that walk on campus, let alone the students in their care.

  • School Wide PE Program: Our school fundraises to employ an additional PE coach to provide our students with the required 110 minutes of weekly PE.  Over the years, our community has expressed concerns regarding the inappropriateness of our coach ranging from sexist comments (Comments made to girls, “If you want to win, make sure to pick boys on your team.” or comments made to boys, “Don’t run like a girl.”) to the inappropriateness of the PE Curriculum (kindergarten students doing push-ups on the blacktop for PE) yet there is no improvement.  In fact, recently parents pushed hard, followed all of the appropriate channels speaking with our principal and Governing Council parent representatives only to have the teachers at Governing Council essentially squash any concerns with an enthusiastic, “Our PE program is great” commentary.  Nothing has ever been investigated, nor will it.

While the ineffectiveness of our PE program and the safety of Beyond the Bell, are huge concerns in our parent community, it has left me more concerned by the process available to parents to raise concerns at their public schools. What options do parents have available to them when their concerns are ignored?

Are parent concerns of value? If so, why are so many of the concerns ignored?  When raised concerns are ignored, it creates a culture of apathy towards school.  I have met parents with concerns who have their youngest student going through elementary tell me, “We tried to effect change the first time through and now we are just trying to get by, we only have x number of years left.”   Just today I received an email from a very involved parent disheartened that the school is not willing to meet the needs of her advanced student, “I have done everything in my power to effect change.  I will probably just write a letter with a few parent signatures and ask for it to be read at Governing Council.  Then I think that’s likely the end of the road for me.  I just don’t have the bandwidth to take this on as a project… and question the benefits of doing so, anyway.”  

I consider myself fortunate to live in a community where parents have the time and resources to push for change and yet even in these communities parents are being silenced.  What about communities who do not have these resources?  Perhaps parents everywhere end up in the same place, unable to push for changes desired for students.

If schools are going to start promoting “See something, Say something”  campaigns, than schools have to be prepared to show that it matters when parents do speak up. Parents have concerns. Parents  are speaking up and in many cases are being ignored. Over and over again.  Schools can not ignore parent concerns daily, and then expect parents to believe they would honor their concerns in regards to a school shooting. The inaction is contributing to a culture of apathy among parents and is protecting mediocrity in our schools.

If we believe parents should, “See Something, Say Something” what should they expect when they do speak up? How will schools make sure voices of students and parents are heard?

There is power in a collective conversation where our children, parents, teachers and leaders all come together to voice concerns, listen to each other and do something to create the change we all want. Let’s start the conversation. “See Something, Say Something” is a start but then we have to “Do Something.”

Can Kindness & Empathy Be Reduced to a Checklist?


This week has been a tough week, with another school shooting making headlines I have felt heavier than usual wondering if we are making time for what really matters in school. It’s not just the increase in school shootings (that is another topic in itself) that have me feeling weighed down,  this week alone I have seen two examples that have left me wondering about the ways in which we are trying, no doubt with the best of intentions, to teach students about empathy and kindness in schools.

Here are two recent examples that caught my attention and really caused me to question our collective approaches:

Great Kindness Challenge: My two elementary aged boys participated in a weeklong kindness challenge at school.  For one week, they had conversations about kindness, there was a Kindness assembly and kids were asked to participate in a Kindness Challenge outlining in a checklist format activities they could do to be kind to others.  Our world needs more kindness, but even my first and third grader could see the inauthenticity of this week. If you visit the Kindness Challenge website, they advertise the week as follows:  One week. One Checklist. Infinite Happiness.  Can kindness really be reduced down to one week with a checklist? Does focusing on kindness for one week send the message that it’s not important the rest of the school year?

Just Don’t Say No Rule:  This week while traveling for work, I had the news on in the hotel room something I rarely do at home and heard the story about the “Just Don’t Say No Rule” at Kainesville School in Utah.  Again with the best of intentions, school leaders decided to implement a rule that 6th-grade girls aren’t allowed to say, “No” if they are asked to go to the dance or once at the dance they aren’t allowed to say, “No” if a boy asks them to dance. Thankfully the school has ended this rule.  The rule was meant to be inclusive, yet it was teaching students that being kind to others means putting yourself in potentially uncomfortable situations.   This is an especially problematic example, given where we are as a society with sexual harassment and the #MeToo movement.  But, what does it say about our own understanding or lack thereof on how to teach kindness to our students?

Both of these examples have left me wondering about the culture of kindness in schools.  How do we build an authentically kind culture?  There are many programs in place at school - programs like Character Counts & Project Cornerstone - but are they effective? How do we know? How do schools, parents and the community come together to create a culture of kindness?  More questions, than answers.  

How are you building an authentically kind culture at your school?  I’d love to learn from you and hear some real examples that don’t reduce empathy or kindness down to a checklist.

What's on My Design Thinking Bookshelf?


When working with school leaders, I frequently get asked for my top Design Thinking book recommendations.  Whether you are looking to learn more about design thinking yourself or engage your staff in a collective book read, these are my (current) top ten recommendations to get you started:

  1. Creative Confidence, Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All, by Tom & David Kelley.  This book is written for everyone who wants to get in touch with their inner creative spirit.  Filled with practical exercises and stories it makes for an excellent group book read. 

  2. Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations & Inspires Innovation, by Tim Brown.   This book provides a fantastic overview of design thinking and methods. This book is written in a way that makes Design Thinking accessible to any leader who wants to infuse the strategies into their organization.

  3. Ten Faces of Innovation: IDEO’s Strategies for Beating the Devil’s Advocate and Driving Creativity Throughout Your Organization, by Tom Kelley.  If you have ever been annoyed by the “devil’s advocate” in meetings this book provides a remedy...ten in fact.  Over the years, IDEO has developed roles people can play to foster new ideas.  Anthropologist, Cross-Pollinator, and Hurdler are just three of the roles to explore.

  4. Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy, by Dev Patnaik.  Wired to Care is full of stories about people and companies who have achieved great success using empathy as their platform for change proving that people are really “wired to care.”

  5. Designing your Life, How to Live a Well Lived, Joyful Life, by Bill Burnett & Dave Evans.  This book takes Design Thinking mindsets and tools and helps you apply them to designing your life.  It is an empowering book that will allow you to experience the power of design thinking on a very personal level.

  6. The Art of Innovation, by Tom Kelley.  This book is a behind the scenes look at the problem-solving process used in IDEO.  Kelley shares both success stories and failures using the process which can help any organization aspiring to be more creative in their approach to problems.

  7. Design Thinking: Understanding How Designers Think and Work, by Nigel Cross. This book digs deep into the habits and mindsets of designers.  Cross help demystify design ability.

  8. Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, by Austin Kleon. While not a book directly on design thinking, Kleon explores the notion that everyone is creative.  You don’t need to be a genius, you just need to be yourself.  Fun, inspiring and practical advice for everyone.

  9. Design Thinking for the Greater Good: Innovation in the Social Sector, by Jeanne Liedtka, Randy Salzman & Daisy Azer.   Thus far most books on design thinking focus on the how-to and results within the business world.  Design Thinking for the Greater Good looks at the potential impact in the social sector.  Ten stories of change are told in fields such as healthcare, education and social services showing how design thinking strategies can work in heavily bureaucratic organizations.

  10. Designing for Growth: A Design Thinking Tool Kit for Managers, by Jeanne Liedtka & Tim Ogilvie.   This book serves as a very practical handbook for leaders looking to use design thinking. Filled with strategies and tools, it is an action-oriented read.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of books on Design Thinking, but will certainly get you started. What books make your top ten list?  I’m always looking for recommendations.  If you are looking for a book that explores the intersection of design thinking and school leadership, we may have just the book coming for you.  Design Thinking for School Leaders: 5 Roles & Mindsets That Ignite Positive Change will be published in May of this year!  Stay connected to get information on the book launch.

Putting the Human in "Human-Centered Design"

Getting Started with Empathy Interviews

Getting Started with Empathy Interviews

I was initially drawn to design thinking or “human-centered design” as it is sometimes called because the starting point was so much different than almost every other problem-solving process I had experienced.  This one actually starts with people!  It doesn’t start with a pre-cooked idea,  a top-down directive or an already tried solution.  It starts by spending time with people to really understand needs from their perspective.  This simple difference is what excited me, but it is also what scares some people from truly embracing design thinking. We all know, engaging with humans can be messy.

There are a number of ways to dig into the needs of your end user, but one of the simplest ways is to talk to people. I am constantly amazed at how much I learn from others through conversation and how much others are willing to share if I create the right conditions for the conversation.   Most people love to talk, especially if you touch on a topic of interest.  And since design thinking is all about solving problems, most people find being a part of a solution (especially to a problem they too experience) interesting.

If you are contemplating using design thinking, I would encourage you to start talking to people and practicing what we call “empathy interviews.”  It might be scary at first, but I promise it will get easier.  And as Tiny Fey said in Bossypants, “ You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide overthinking it.  You have to go down the chute.”  Below are a few steps to help you stop overthinking it and get you started with your first empathy interview.

  • What are you curious about?  Think about the problem you are trying to solve.  What makes it an interesting problem?  Perhaps there are already solutions out there, but the problem still exists.  Why?
  • Whose problem is this?  Who will benefit when you solve this problem?  This will help you identify your end user and get you thinking about who you need to talk to.

  • Who will you interview? Brainstorm a possible list of people that might have interesting insights on your topic.  Don’t forget to include “extreme users” — those who might have experienced your problem in a drastic way or those who may have never experienced your problem. Some of our most interesting insights have come from extreme users

  • Pick a Design Partner. Conducting empathy interviews is always more fun with a friend.  Select someone who is invested in helping to solve your problem and willing to help.  This way one of you can do the interviewing and the other can capture notes.  Try to capture exact phrases and don’t forget to watch the body language.

  • Schedule Your Interviews.  Allow for a minimum of 30 minutes for an interview, sometimes it takes the first 15 minutes just to establish rapport and get the conversation flowing.  

  • Plan Your Questions. When planning your questions and interview prompts, keep in mind these types of interviews are meant to draw out stories and evoke emotions.  These are not hiring interviews where you must ask everyone the same set of questions.  Plan a general outline and let the interview go where there is energy.
  1. Encourage Stories. Stories reveal how people think about the world.
  2. Avoid usually, always and rarely. Ask about specific instances, such as “tell me about the last time you___________.

  3. Ask why. Even when you think you know the answer, try asking people why they do or say the things they do; sometimes the answers will surprise you.

  • Interview. Enjoy the interview.  The more comfortable you are, the more comfortable your interviewee will be in sharing their experiences. Don’t be scared of silence, some of the deeper responses come after a moment of thought and reflection.

  • Synthesize & Reflect.  After you have completed your interviews, take some time to reflect and digest all that you learned.  How will this new information impact your next steps?

To make this even easier, try downloading the Empathy Interview Template.  It has everything you need to conduct a successful interview.  I can’t wait to hear what problem you are solving, who you are talking to and what you learn!