ReDesign Aurora

ReDesign Aurora is a place for educators, designers and future thinkers to learn more about our work as a team committed to transforming student learning. We are learning how to work in an authentic 21st Century space that features the guiding principles of design thinking. This will be a weekly collaborative communication for our team members and for educators who are committed to doing something different in service to our students. This space will feature a regular design opportunity for ideas…brainstorms…possibilities. We hope you’ll join the conversation!

ReDefining EMPATHY

ReDesign is more than just changing the way we support schools in our district; it’s about transforming our culture so that we become the change we want to see in the daily learning of our students. The 21st century zeitgeist values the user and then designs engaging experiences based on their needs. We have moved far, far away from an isolated group of “experts” who make people believe they need something. Or worse, professionals who force others to comply and adopt policies, programs or processes developed in service to the organization at large.

The first question in a culture committed to, and led by, the value of EMPATHY is, “Who is our user?” If we are discussing curriculum, instruction or assessment, we have to realize that students are the user above all else. That’s a turn-around belief for many systems…which is ironic. When did education forget that our students are the users of all that we are meant to do in this profession??

Determining the user for any design is essential, and this is one of the most important conversations a team can have. In APS, the Teaching and Learning team continues to push into the classroom when designing or redesigning our processes and products. Our challenge is to influence the culture so that whenever two or more gather within our district, the first question is, “Who is the user for this design/decision?”

Once we determine our user, we begin to develop ways to effectively interact with them in order to design around their needs. Empathy is the art form and cultural norm we believe guides all that we do when designing. Empathy expects us to:

  1. Know who our users are…in the first person experience. When we determine our users, we talk to them face to face. If we get this right, we are half way to a compelling transformation.
  2. Listening to our users. We use interviews (not surveys!) to listen and learn from what is said and what is NOT said. Nonverbal responses to our questions and our experience show where there is tension or energy or possibility. We use every word and nonverbal response to understand need.
  3. Listening to our users. Deeply…even if we don’t like what they are saying because they tell us that what they have experienced in the past (that we created) wasn’t what they NEEDED. Empathy puts ego aside, and listens eagerly for honesty and vulnerability.
  4. Listening to our users. When done well, the user gets vulnerable. The user tells us things they haven’t told others about their need. They give us a GIFT…PURE GOLD…a treasure that we can use and design something they can’t believe they haven’t experienced before.
  5. Step into the heart and mind of the user, and experience, through stories and emotions, the truth of their experience in our system. Our response as interviewers/empathizers is curiosity.

Empathy is the cornerstone of design. Empathy is the cornerstone of equity in our system. Empathy is a key to living the future tense of collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and communication.

Brené Brown has been the TED sweetheart for a few years now, and for good reason. Her work on vulnerability has transformed the way I think about user feedback and interviews. When we are vulnerable with our users, we can tell them without shame that we are hungry for their feedback…and mean it. When we build rapport and trust with our users, they are willing to tell us exactly what they need, which is incredibly vulnerable. Here’s one of our favorite Brené Brown talks:

AND THIS ONE IS WELL WORTH THE WATCH! “Design is vulnerability…”

Not clear about how this looks in the real world? Imagine teaching a lesson that includes the following introduction: “Today we are going to be trying something completely different when we are learning about ___________. I’ve asked a few of you about how you best learn new ideas that are challenging and I got inspired by what I heard. At the end of the lesson, we are going to check that you learned the outcomes AND I’m going to ask for user feedback. That means I’m going to ask you to be very open about what you liked and what you didn’t like. Be ready to give me your most honest feedback, because that will help me design a better learning experience for you tomorrow.” And after the lesson, students are interviewed about specific points in the learning with the teacher digging deep to find out their needs and how he/she met them or didn’t. What would that teacher be modeling to students? What would engagement and relationship look like in that classroom?

Empathy…the cornerstone of ReDesign.

DESIGN CHALLENGE: How can we integrate EMPATHY into the everyday experience of our students and our teachers? How does it matter?

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