The Future of School

This year Mount Vernon’s communication team generated a robust Experts in Residence database of parents in the community who want to partner with our teachers and students at varying degrees and times of the year to serve as mentors, teachers, or advisors for our students. Back in December, I began culling through the lengthy list of parents to find potential partners for the Innovation Diploma Cohort. I wasn’t quite sure how I wanted to set up the work we did together, but I knew I wanted to turn the traditional model of who the expert is (usually the adult) on its head. I eventually landed on a 90 minute Mini Design Challenge – the spin is that we would design a solution or a set of solutions for a problem or opportunity our client* brings to us. This model, coined by the iD team as “Consultivation” (combining the words “consult” and “innovation”), has become an incredible teaching and learning tool for our team, as well as budding partnerships between school and our community. We have had the following challenges brought to our team, and we have even begun to share this model across all divisions by using it at our#fuse15 coaches training:

  • How might we express gratitude to our donors?
  • How might we create a sense of community in our organization?
  • How might we evaluate our impact?
  • How might our team better communicate when we are across countries and time zones?

The way we approach these challenges is through what I call the “back door.” Since I know ahead of time what the challenge is that we are working on, I am able to reframe the problem, so that the group I am working with (in this case students) can work through the problem as if it’s theirs. For example, the first one about donor recognition seems hard to grapple with as a student, but I was able to reframe it by generating questions like: “when have you felt appreciated?” or “talk about a time when you received a ‘thank you’ that meant a lot to you.” Everyone took a few minutes to generate more questions like that, and then paired up for empathy interviews. The paired teams then switch back and forth between being the designer and the user and 3 minute intervals to interview each other about the design challenge topic two times through.

After empathy interviews, I’ve run two different models of the flow, the first one is this: the designers then prototype a 1.0 version to meet the needs of their user (whoever their partner is). We share out as a whole group using the “I like, I wish, I wonder” protocol and I facilitate the group to make clear connections between the prototypes and our real client. The client ideally leaves with a host of adjacent possibilities to solve their immediate challenge. The second model we ran this week, goes like this: the pairs then split, and re-group into teams of three to “dump” insights from their paired interviews and begin to unpack. Through the insights, the design team of three begins to flare solution ideas with the “Six Sketchy Circles” tool I recently co-created with Mary Cantwell and Jim Tiffin that could translate to their real user – our client. This week, the team worked with Bill Lovejoy, Chief Engineer at NAES designing around “How might our team better communicate when we are across countries and time zones?” After sharing each group’s prototype with Mr. Lovejoy, our client not only left with a host of “implementable” ideas, but also with a deep appreciation for the work Innovation Diploma is doing. My hope is that our consultivations grow into full-scale project work – or as we call it venture work.

Imagine if the projects students worked on in school were not “assigned by a teacher,” but rather a need brought to our students from someone in the community? And instead of grades, students were given regular feedback from not only a teacher facilitator, but also the community. This is the future of school – but at Mount Vernon, and especially for Innovation Diploma, this IS school.

*we use the word client because Innovation Diploma is not a class but a Start-up. Whenever we can we operate as a business, and mirror that terminology.

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