Part of d. thinking involves collaborating to build a prototype of your team’s solution to a real world challenge and then testing the prototype with the person/people who are going to use it. Here SCH Academy science teacher’s Erik Dreisbach (left) and Marianne Maloy (right) experience the creativity and fun of the prototyping process.

Just as students across Philadelphia were beginning to enjoy their summer vacations, 250 educators, including more than a handful from international schools, gave up the first three days of their summer breaks to gather at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy for a three-day boot camp.

There were no jumping jacks or sprints – just intensive training for design thinking, the innovative methodology out of Stanford University that is being used in corporations and universities around the country.

Featured in a June 7 “Wall Street Journal” article,“Forget B-School, D-School is Hot,” design thinking has gained traction as the process for solving real-world problems. Demand is so high for training that workshops at Stanford’s d.School (shorthand for Stanford University’s Institute of Design) are full up for this summer. When SCH extended invitations to teachers locally and abroad to join them for their Design Thinking Studio, educators jumped at the offer.

“We have sent several clusters of teachers to Stanford’s d.School for design thinking training over the past three summers, and they found it so powerful and transformative that they returned to school and immediately began embedding this empathy-based, human-centered framework into their practice,” said SCH president Priscilla Sands.

“Design thinking fits so perfectly with our Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership designed to give students the future-ready skills they need for our rapidly changing world,” Sands said.  “It became clear that all SCH faculty needed to be trained in d.thinking.  So Jenn Vermillion, director of Innovative Teaching, investigated bringing d.school training here for all SCH faculty. Jenn found an amazing way to make it happen. She is an amazing force within the world of educational technology.”

In addition to SCH faculty, Sands welcomed guests from Wellington International School-Dubai, a liaison for SCH at Wharton, Sega School-Tanzania and NYU-Abu Dhabi as well as local schools Agnes Irwin, Boys’ Latin Charter School, Science Leadership Academy, Parkway High School for Peace and Justice, and Community Partnership School.

“Global partnerships are central to our newly launched Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, and we were happy to provide this opportunity to other schools.” Sands said.

So just what is design thinking and what makes it so powerful?

Design thinking involves a collaborative team approach to generating solutions to real world problems. The linchpin to its success is thatthe entire process is grounded in empathy. Through face-to-face interviews, teams learn about the problem they will be addressing directly from the person they are trying to serve. They then approach the problem from that person’s point of view, designing prototype solutions and testing them out with the person/organization in need and revising accordingly.

At the SCH Design Thinking Studio, SCH faculty and guests learned about design thinking in the best way possible: They did it themselves. First they learned the steps of design thinking in mixed groups and took on the challenge of designing a collaborative space for 21st century learners. Next they gathered in grade-level groups and used design thinking to address a real need in their classroom, in their division, or at the school as a whole.

The result was a series of very exciting possibilities. One group of teachers in Lower School for Boys plans to use design thinking with students to create a more relevant social service experience on the Willow Grove Campus for Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.  Another group of teachers in Lower School for Girls plans to use it with first through fourth graders to redesign classrooms to better meet student needs. In Upper School, yet another group of teachers may have students use d.thinking to create an ideal space for poetry writing or to redesign commencement.

“What stood out to me was the goal of communicating to students the value of listening and then collaborating with others to think outside of the box,” said Jenny Culbert, Kindergarten teacher in Lower School for Girls. “What could be more important than creating learners who are empathetic and energized to find solutions?”

Educators from SCH partner schools also walked away with ideas and plans for the next school year.
“I plan on using design thinking with my students to establish our classroom environment,” said Suzie Podesta from the Wellington International School in Dubai. “Working with so many other schools was a great experience! I look forward to developing an online project using design thinking with SCH kindergarten teachers.”

“There were many wonderful ideas for changing teaching and instruction,” added Elliot Seif, a Philadelphia-based educational consultant with experience in both public and independent schools. “This is applicable not just to SCH but to urban schools as well. Working from a need and learning to empathize with those for whom you are designing is a wonderful part of the process.”

“Our small group interviewed a teaching assistant for English at NYU, Abu Dhabi,” said Martha Crowell, music teacher in Lower School for Girls. “It was wonderful to hear what his year has been like and to dream up possibilities for a very exciting, very new program there.  We all have our passion for teaching in common.”