Teacher talking

Photo caption: HDESD staff discuss ideas to improve the substitute teacher program using design thinking.

How Design Thinking Can Unlock the Best in Central Oregon Schools

Design thinking – what is it and how do educators use design thinking in Central Oregon schools?

Design thinking is a methodology for creative problem solving, according to the d.school at Stanford University, where the idea was born more than 15 years ago. In Central Oregon, High Desert Education Service District is working with Katie Krummeck, an educational designer and facilitator, to learn about design thinking and use it in everyday situations. Krummeck used to work at the d.school at Stanford on how design thinking can be used in K-12 schools.

“The traditional way of solving problems is to bring people together in the company or organization and have them pick an idea and implement it before it’s been tested,” Krummeck said. “Often they don’t ever hear from the users before they implement the idea.”

By contrast, design thinking brings together a variety of stakeholders to learn about the users in the system, reframe the problem and brainstorm solutions. What makes design thinking so different from other approaches – and so effective – is that from the beginning, the goal isn’t to come up with a concrete solution that works perfectly right away.

“It’s about experimenting early and often, giving yourself room to accept that your original idea might not be the right solution,” Krummeck said.

How Educators Use Design Thinking in Central Oregon

High Desert Education Service District has a few huge proponents of design thinking, including Anna Higgins, Director of Innovation. Higgins is pushing the district to use the design thinking process in a variety of ways on different projects. Since January, HDESD has been using design thinking to approach improving its substitute teacher program. The service district provides substitute teachers for public schools around Central Oregon.

The “design team” working on making the program better for principals, teachers and students includes input from all of those people. The team found some of the issues they learned about from interviews could be improved with some fairly simple solutions.

When we hear the word “innovation” we might automatically think of tech-based solutions, Higgins said. But the design thinking approach brings forward solutions that are more often tweaks to human behavior.

“Design thinking is so interesting because it’s not always that the solution is a drone is going to deliver your lunch for you,” Higgins said.

For example, substitute teachers would simply appreciate knowing who to go to with questions. They’d also love to feel more of a sense of community. HDESD is considering having a “teacher on point” at each school site who can be a go-to for the substitute teachers. The design team is also thinking of hosting some type of event where substitute teachers can get to know their peers. Next school year, these ideas and others will be prototyped and tested.

And the design team will keep an eye on the substitute program to make more tweaks as it needs it.

“I think a really big mindset in design thinking is, ‘how can we take an iterative approach, how can we learn more about the user, how can we learn more about the solution?’” Krummeck said. “And, ‘how do we stay open to new solutions down the road?’ Even when you  come up with a great innovative solution today, that thing may not work the same way in a couple years.”