Designing Equitable Schools

Most school communities want each of their members to feel fully valued and engaged. It is a challenge within contemporary education to mindfully design for equity. As equity in international education is part of my doctoral research, I asked ISS President, Liz Duffy if she wouldn’t mind leading a design thinking workshop about how to create more equitable school communities at LEVEL 5.

Underpinned by the principles of Standfords d-school’s design thinking model

as well as Universal Design for Architecture, Liz explored how the design and composition of an environment must be thoughtfully created so that it may be accessed, understood and used

  1. To the greatest possible extent

2. In the most independent and natural manner possible

3. In the widest possible range of situations

4. Without the need for adaptation, modification, assistive devices or specialized solutions, by any persons of any age or size or having any particular physical, sensory, mental health or intellectual ability or disability, and

So then, within the educational frame, Universal Design principles can be thought of as Engagement, Representation & Expression.

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Liz challenged us to ask ourselves:

  • What makes the student different?
  • How does he/she feel included or not?
  • What does the student need to fully participate?
  • How is your student’s motivation or interest in learning stimulated or not?
  • How is information presented that helps or hinders your student’s learning?
  • How can your student fully demonstrate, or not, his/her learning?

These questions helped us find patterns that emerged.

These patterns provided a framework with which to use the design thinking process to actively rethink schools through an equity lens. Not just for students, but also for the adults and colleagues that we work with each day.

By developing empathy, rapid prototyping solutions, and getting real time feedback, teachers were able to approach authentic situations in their respective environments and create practical designs to help create systems of equity.

And by working with local Chinese teachers from public schools teachers were able to address their misconceptions and assumptions regarding other modalities of learning, whilst developing cultural capacity- something very needed for equitable contexts.

One of the frameworks I have adapted in my own research has been the new K-12 Lab (d-school) model for design thinking. This model is the design thinking process re-imagined to promote equity. This new framework was created in May 2016 to hold the vulnerability and courage needed to develop one’s self-awareness as a equity-centered designer. The K12 Network added two new design modes to the existing hexagonal design thinking visual: Notice and Reflect.

The Notice phase helps designers develop a self and social-emotional awareness before entering any context or practice of empathy. This phase focuses on you, the designer, in order to build a practice of self-awareness of your own identity, values, emotions, biases, assumptions and situatedness. From there, begin to reveal your authentic self accept and build from all you don’t know so you can empathize with humility, curiosity and courage. Noticing what one brings to any person and context allows for authentic human centered design, not “you” centered design.

The Reflect phase of the process is ongoing and transparent throughout the design thinking process. It allows you and your team the time to notice, focus and reflect on your actions, emotions, insights and impact as designer(s) and human(s) within your user’s context. We suggest you Reflect using an Equity Pause, a process step coined by EquityXDesign. An Equity Pause is a time to share our learning and see what we can do better next time in the service of equity and inclusion.

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Learn more about how ISS is working towards creating equitable school communities. Learn more about LEVEL 5’s events on our website.

Disability Act 2005, Universal Design (UD)

David Clifford, Stanford & design school X