How might we Teach by Design?

Matt Norman
Oct 11 · 6 min read

At Skills of the Modern age, our mission is to get people, organisations and communities ready for and excited about the future of work. That means we do a lot of capacity-building work in organisations big and small, training adults in the essential design and innovation skills they need — but we also recognise that one of the best places to intervene for the future is in the education system.

That’s why we’ve developed our new Teach by Design program, helping teachers to harness the power of design thinking for impactful curriculum design and lesson planning.

Our amazing cohort of teachers from our first Teach by Design bootcamp!

On 17th September, we were joined by 30 passionate teachers and educators to run a one-day bootcamp as a pilot of this new program — below is a summary of the Teach by Design model we worked through together, what we learnt, and what comes next!

The Teach by Design model

The Teach by Design model has four stages, adapted from the Stanford model you might be familiar with. These stages have been crafted very deliberately with the needs of teachers and educators in mind, to ensure that the model can be as impactful as possible in school and classrooms.

The Teach by Design model — we think it looks a bit like a learning rocket!


We started off with the Gather stage — the longest and most important part of the design process! Teach by Design breaks down the Gather stage into three key ways to gather insights: by empathising with your students, understanding the curriculum you need to deliver, and diving into the data you have available.

“Teach by Design allowed me the space and time to really empathise with my students and understand their needs.”

— Adam, Team Leader

Our team of teachers used a series of custom design canvasses to develop a deeper understanding of the experience of their students, as well as to consider what the ‘Ultimate Graduate’ would look like — what skills, tools, mindsets, and character traits would they like their students to have by the time they left school?

The Student Empathy and Ultimate Graduate canvasses, part of the Teach by Design Toolkit.

Speaking to the teachers we work with, one of the biggest factors they feel holds them back from developing more creative, student-centred lessons and programs is having to get through a large amount prescribed curriculum content. The next exercise encouraged teachers to flip their thinking about curriculum content — viewing each piece of content not as a burden, but as a tool they can use to teach those essentials skills they identified in the empathy stage. Finally, we gave teachers time to explore the data sets they had available about their students’ performance and engagement, and to take stock of what had worked in the past, and what might need to change.

“Starting with the ‘ultimate graduate profile’ on what we want our students to leave school with really did highlight the gaps in process when we simply roll out content-centred programs year after year.”

— Michael, Head of Careers & VET


The next step in the Teach by Design process is to synthesise all of the empathy, curriculum and data insights from the gather stage into a clear definition of the design challenge at hand, which then acts as the starting point for ideation. We guided our team of teachers in crafting powerful ‘How Might We’ questions that captured what they’d learnt so far, but left them enough room to come up with a range of different ways to move forward. Some examples are below:

How might we put literature in context to help students develop empathy skills?

How might we create opportunities for students to decide how they’re assessed?

How might we give students more autonomy to improve their financial literacy?


With a clear ‘How Might We’ question crafted, it was time to come up with a whole lot of ideas about how to reach each teacher’s desired outcome! As with many design processes, the focus here was quantity over quality — and to inspire some divergent thinking, we had teachers move around the room and contribute ideas for each other’s challenges as well as their own, finishing up with an diverse array of possible solutions.


After the divergent thinking of ideation, we invited our teachers to converge on one idea that they’d like to develop. This part of the Teach by Design process is deliberately not called prototyping, because it goes beyond simply making an idea tangible — it recognises the reality that to design impactful learning means co-creating that learning with school leadership, fellow teachers, and most importantly with your students. Without our students in the room for this pilot, participants stepped into this feedback role for one another, creating sketches of their ideas and offering each other insights, questions and encouragement through an interactive ‘gallery walk’ activity.


Finally, our teachers were invited to think about how they were going to implement the ideas they’d created back in their school, and what might get in their way. Using a storyboard canvas, they started to craft the compelling narrative they would need to share with leadership, colleagues, students and the school community to get everyone on board with more creative, student-centred learning. This element is a key part of the Teach by Design framework, and it’s an ongoing journey — designing one great new program or even a single lesson that really engages students and develops the right skills, tools and mindsets in them is the first step in a larger process of changing education for the better, one learning experience at a time.

“Teach by Design is just the injection that education needs; equiping teachers to drive student centred learning with a practical approach to curriculum design. This course puts students at the centre of all decisions about learning and sets teachers free to create.”

— Nigel, Programme Coordinator

So what’s next?

This first Teach by Design workshop was a pilot, and we’ve been able to gather plenty of feedback from teachers about what worked for them, and how we can improve the program. One of the things we heard consistently was that teachers want to hear more stories about how a design thinking approach has been used successfully in an education context — so if you’re a teacher or school leader with a success story to share, we’d love to hear from you.

Next on the agenda is to run another Teach by Design workshop before the end of the year with new and improved content, as well as a test workshop in the regions (a great excuse for a little road trip) before starting to grow and scale the program next year. We’d love to be able to work with entire departments or the whole teaching staff of a school, with multiple short workshops over time, to really start to shift mindsets and embed a student-centred design approach to learning. If your school might be interested in that kind of opportunity, please reach out via and we’d love to chat to you!

Matt Norman

Written by

Designing experiences that bring out the best in people.

Skills of the Modern Age

We're a future skills academy helping people get excited about the future of work.

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