Naturally, teachers moved into the Empathy phase on their own, and among the conversations that stand out is one I had with Laurie. Once she began asking her students about their thoughts and feelings regarding school and learning, the floodgates opened. A student shared the video below with Laurie, and she, in turn, shared it with me. While we have been busy with our work on this project, I haven't found a great place to slip this in. So here is my chance to share this with you if you are interested, and I encourage you to react and engage in a discussion in the comments below. Cheers!
Teachers have taken the next step as designers, moving from Observation to Empathy. After spending a few weeks with eyes wide open, the next step is to open our ears. One of my favorite days during this project was October 5th, when Tammy Brown brought her class over to RESA to test the pieces we have been borrowing. She let the students test out furniture, and it was fun to watch as students gravitated to the usual spots - the weird egg-shaped chair, the soft seating, and the height-adjustable tables. In a brilliant move, Tammy asked students to choose their favorite seat, and it was obvious the kids like a chair that is comfortable to sit in. Being able to spin and roll around is always especially fun, so those chairs were clear favorites.
After Tammy's class came by, a couple classes from TEC made their way over, and the response was similar. Students liked the option to stand, but also liked a chair that had enough give and enough structure all at the same time. I learned a lot by listening to the students that day, and I found I learned the most after I made assumptions and found I was completely wrong.
You see, the young lady pictured (left) about taught me a lot that day. When she consistently gravitated toward the Node, I couldn't help but assume she felt it was a safe, normal choice, what she is used to sitting in most of the day at school. But that was not at all why she gravitated to it over and over. Instead, she said she likes it because she can put her feet somewhere. She was the first of many this day - short and tall - who expressed needing a place to put his or her feet. But the greater lesson I learned was the importance of casting aside my own assumptions and digging deeper with the Five Why's: Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Once I asked why she liked it, my understanding changed and I found out the feature she liked was not the tablet, not the arms, not even the give in the seat. No, it was a place to put her feet. Once she revealed that fact, I found out she would like pretty much any seat, as long as she has a place to rest her feet.
Fortunately I had this experience before seeing the teachers on October 6th, when they would be making the official move into the Empathy stage of the project. This is the vital time for trying to understand the learning experience from their students' eyes and ears and hands and brains and bodies, rather than their own. Teachers launched into this work by creating Empathy Maps about their students, based on their observations and what they know so far.
Teachers shared then sorted their ideas into facts vs. assumptions. This was a pretty challenging task because it is really difficult to judge whether seeing the same thing really means we see it the same way. Quickly teachers realized they make assumptions about the students, and set forth to ask students about their experience. Over the next couple weeks teachers are using various methods such as conducting interviews and asking students to create mood boards to best communicate their wants and needs. So far the teachers have assumed students need more opportunities for choice, for example. The Empathy activities are sure to either prove or disprove this assumption, and enlighten all of us even further. I can't wait to learn what they have to say!
Up until this point, Laura and Danielle were 'the designers', but I challenged teachers to think of themselves as designers. Laura and Danielle are experts in designing spaces, using theory, math, and industry standards (to say the least) to create well-functioning, gorgeous learning environments. At the same time, teachers are experts in designing learning using pedagogy, content knowledge, and standards (to say the least) to create engaged, knowledgeable and skilled students. Teachers had begun thinking like designers early on, when they began their Observation work, and using Design Thinking protocols, but now thinking like a designer has permeated their entire teacher-beings.
The teachers took some time to sketch their current classroom, and to think about why it was designed that way, especially the elements they controlled, that they personally designed, and to think about what it might be like to learn in the space. Below is one example.
Our designer-teachers ventured early the morning of October 4th to visit a couple schools in Oakland County. Let me pause now to point out the monumental feat that was traveling in vans to Bloomfield Hills in rush hour traffic on M-59. Only a teacher's true dedication, patience, and passion for learning could have helped the crew that rode with me survive the trip (Keiryn, Cleo, Meran, and Jim - you are very, very brave people and deserve a special award for getting in that BLUE van).
A few concepts that drove the district's vision when designing the new Bloomfield Hills High were: basic human needs, teaching, learning, and engagement. These principles are visible throughout the school. Students have comfortable seating choices that maximize visibility within classrooms. In any given class, you will see at least three choices in seating: high top tables, larger tables, and smaller tables. Each has varying seats as well. The high top tables and/or chairs have footrests that even the shortest students would love. Smaller tables can move into smaller collaborative groups, and even allows the solo learner the chance to be independent.
Another concept at BHHS is the concept of Learning Communities. Four main principles guide teaching and learning in these centers: increased interdisciplinary connections, greater personalization, increased collaboration, and community climate. Because of these principles, you will see the classes have windows, connecting them to each other as well as a central collaboration area, featuring monitor-equipped collaboration stations, soft seating, and color. In the photo to the right, a class gathers for an activity in one of the community spaces.
After finishing the tour at the high school, we headed over to Novi Woods Elementary School to visit the class of Michelle Donberger and her co-teacher Marietta Leon. Like the teachers involved in Classroom4theFuture, Michelle and Marietta are pioneers in their school, who received a grant that gave them the opportunity to re-imagine the possibilities of their shared classroom. The visit began with sitting down in the space and learning from the teachers, but the real fun started when the students came in the room. Immediately, the teachers started getting right in there with the students, asking questions and asking about what it's like to learn in the space. They expressed preferring to learn in this class, and adjusted quite easily to the new routines it forced them to adapt to. Michelle told the teachers the students had to learn how to use the new furniture before they could even touch it. Clearly, the students were taught routines and procedures, because they quietly, smoothly moved from tables to the giant steps as they started a lesson together as a class. Teachers snapped pictures of the students and new ideas they found around the room before heading to TMP.
Once at TMP, we had a chance to eat lunch and debrief a little before heading into a furniture play land. TMP has a model space outfitted with VS furniture and groovy orange flooring that invited teachers to experiment. It was a great way to top off an exhilarating day full of learning and visiting other schools - a chance teachers are rarely, if ever, able to experience.
The phrase that most often comes out of the mouths of the Classroom4theFuture teachers as we visit each space is I'm open to that. True to the agreements made our first night together, teachers are remaining open to new ideas and possibilities as they emerge through the design process. Though the phrase seems a simple response to an idea, it is in fact a great big reflection on the teachers involved. I'm open to that is never said in response to being propositioned with a new brand of chocolate or an all-expenses paid trip to Vegas. No, this is in response to being introduced to concepts that could drastically impact their own teaching, usually giving greater voice and choice to students. Each teacher knows this type of change only comes with hard work and growing pains, but each is up to the challenge. We had no idea just how much this project could potentially impact teaching and learning until we were able to get into the minds and classrooms of the teachers.
With the help of interior designers Laura Casai and Danielle O'Grady from TMP Architecture, teachers are exploring new possibilities their previously limiting spaces might enable. While Danielle made her way around the room, measuring and taking notes with ninja-like moves, Laura was able to ask teachers about what a typical day looks like and even asked how they might feel about "divorcing the front-of-the-room technology from you". Teachers' responses varied from the now ubiquitous I'm open to that to that divorce was final ages ago.
Naturally, such changes come with plenty of apprehension. Not only will teachers have to adapt to change, but the students will have to learn a whole new way of learning, too. I have been learning a lot through this process, and among my reflections is the understanding that I have to help teachers in preparing their students for the change ahead. Teachers will need to anticipate how to explicitly teach new skills to their students because now they will be able to facilitate such different ways of learning that include collaborating, moving, and adapting the room to their needs (among other changes). Amanda, like a few others said, "The room is probably going to change my teaching." It is changing mine, too.
Once loosened up, teachers brainstormed the worst professional learning fears, then shifted to thinking about their greatest hopes for professional learning. Reflecting on their collective their Fears and Hopes, teams established norms and expectations they agreed to uphold as collaborative teams - and I solemnly swore to uphold them as well.
After teams shared their norms, everybody used the 3-12-3 protocol to brainstorm words and phrases that came to mind when they envisioned the Desired Learning they wish for their students. Once they had a few minutes to think of those qualities, they put their ideas together in a single deck of cards. Each team member drew a card that would then become part of a visual representation they would collaboratively draw for others to see. Major themes clearly arose among the decks of cards, including students' clear need for: engagement, a community of collaboration and cooperation, relevance, growth mindset and grit, voice and choice in their learning, joyful learning, a safe and positive classroom climate, independent opportunities, as well as the development of additional 21st Century skills such as creativity, problem solving, and technology use. I put the words on their cards into a Wordle, to see what stands out.
Teams shared their visual representations, and noticed many similarities, such as the value of student collaboration, ideas, choice, relevance and the need for learning from their peers.