Prototype Your Ideas
Learn about how two teams, each at a different school, are prototyping their ideas.
By: Elsa Fridman Randolph
With four days left to the Evolve phase, The Teachers Guild community is hard at work prototyping and refining their solutions addressing our current collaboration question: How might we create rituals and routines that establish a culture of innovation in our classrooms and schools?
To encourage you to prototype your own ideas, we are profiling the ongoing prototyping work of Michael Schurr from Riverdale Country School (RCS) in the Bronx, and Bo Adams from Mount Vernon Presbyterian School (MVPS) in Atlanta.
Michael, whom you may remember from our Empathize Deeply with Your Students article, is a 3rd grade co-teacher and the Leader of the Assistant Teacher Mentor Program at RCS and a Teacher Coach on The Teachers Guild. Bo Adams is the Chief Learning & Innovation Officer at MVPS and the Executive Director of the Mount Vernon Institute for Innovation.
Want more tips and strategies on prototyping?
“Working with others within my community has been valuable for me. Finding, not even necessarily like-minded people, but finding people who want to create positive solutions to problems and partnering up with them is a great way to get started. Also, just going a little rogue and going for it.” — Michael
“Don’t be afraid to implement the ideas as prototypes with your students today. Maybe the barrier to entry to some of this is the perception that if I do that, am I treating my students as guinea pigs? But I think the reality is to go with the hunch of this idea, to just start. The biggest obstacle to getting something done is the hurdle of starting. Make a guess based on the insights you’re collecting from the people you’re working with, put into place what you know now and use that model of what you know now as a way to implement now and test and get better.” — Bo
RCS: Michael is working with several of his RCS colleagues — Richard Brehl, Jyoti Gopal, Meg Krause and Patrick Murray — to prototype one of the ideas that he contributed to The Teachers Guild — a Feedback Forum.
The starting idea for the Feedback Forum was motivated by a desire and perceived need to have large, visible whiteboards to give and receive feedback from colleagues about big ideas being tried school-wide and in individual classrooms.
After collaborating on Google Docs and Slack, the team decided to expand the original whiteboard idea to include a digital component and have an online forum that anyone, anywhere, could access and collaborate on. The idea being that each school or community using the forum would have a project manager who would capture, synthesize and upload the themes and patterns emerging on their analogue whiteboard onto the site which would broaden the reach of potential collaborators.
MVPS: Bo and three of his colleagues at MVPS — T.J. Edwards, Meghan Cureton and Trey Boden — have been prototyping the idea of using curiosity journals to collaboratively create curriculum, which Bo contributed as an idea on The Teachers Guild. The idea behind curiosity journals is to take an act that many of us do multiple times a day — snapping a picture with our cell phones — and putting it to work for us by creating a collection of our curiosities to generate a pool of possible things to draw on such as projects, design challenges, etc.
Feedforward: (N) To give someone suggestions for the future regarding a task or undertaking. It can help people envision a positive future. Feedforward can come from anyone familiar with the task, and does not require personal experience with the individual. We can change the future, we can’t change the past.
RCS: Richard built a mock website using Google sites, which you can view and explore here. On the site, people can contribute and collaborate in two basic ways; on the Feedforward board by sharing experiences with projects, and opportunities they have engaged in or undertaken, and request feedforward on their efforts so far. Or on the Opportunities board which is for “How might we” (HMW) questions related to improving any situation or solving any problem in the institution, the local community, or in any context up to and including the world at large.
Meanwhile, Michael found an unused whiteboard in a common space of the Lower School and reserved its use for the next couple of weeks to prototype their idea. The team did this by writing a question on the board, How might we create blank space and/or time in our schedule this year? and observed how teachers used this question for brainstorming opportunities and sharing feedback. By placing their idea in real space, the team was able to take it through the feedforward process, and from that experience created a new how might we question: How might we encourage educators to embrace a minimalist approach to planning — which they will continue to refine and iterate.
After speaking about their idea with other teachers, and collecting feedback, the team has renamed the idea the Feedforward and Opportunity Forum.
As Michael and Richard we’re discussing their idea, Richard’s co-teacher, Grace, noted that the word feedback can sometimes hold a negative connotation for some people, who might interpret it as an evaluation rather than a resource. From that insight, the team decided to change the name to Feedforward. As Michael notes,
“Feedforward doesn’t require that you know the person, you only know the task. So it could be an administrator, a colleague, or it could be someone external who knows nothing about you. What I like about it is that it really focuses on the future, on how you change the future. We all know that you can’t change the past, so the idea is you don’t need to get feedback, you don’t need to worry about what’s already happened. Let’s look at the idea, let’s look at what went well with the idea, and then how can we make it even better moving forward.”
“Let’s look at the idea, let’s look at what went well with the idea, and then how can we make it even better moving forward.” — Michael
MVPS: Bo and his team are prototyping the curiosity journals with the Innovation Diploma cohort at their school. Twenty-five MVPS Upper School students, ranging from 9th to 12th grades are currently enrolled in the program and broken down into two cohorts, the “Disney” cohort and the “Jobs” cohort. The students meet with the teacher team for 10 to 12 hours per week, and as part of their work, are tasked with maintaining digital curiosity journals in the form of WordPress blogs (see some examples here, here and here). The students capture observations throughout the day on their phones and upload their observations by sending emails to their private WordPress email accounts. To make it easier to browse their collective curiosities the students have started using the hashtag #iDiploma.
The team met with the two cohorts this past Thursday and the feedback collected in that session caused them to pivot their initial plans for the next three weeks. Originally the teachers had intended on having one of the cohorts start a module called the Design Thinking Accelerator Module, while the other cohort was going to start work in a healthy design challenge. After Thursday’s session however, the teacher team decided to have the students’ design work emerge from four of the curiosity journal posts that the students posted last Thursday.
“One of the pain points is just the relatively fast re-creation of what we thought we were doing and being willing to ditch three weeks of skeletal planning and start over because we thought the power of the message to the students, that — the things we posted just last Thursday have actually become the things that we’re going to pursue in our work together as a team this next week; we have the power to determine what we spend our time on, as students — is really exciting. For teachers, it requires learning to have that willingness to abandon what you thought you were going to be doing to potentially build and test something better.” — Bo
“have that willingness to abandon what you thought you were going to be doing to potentially build and test something better.” — Bo
The Feedback / Learnings
RCS: Michael and his team plan on having the whiteboard accessible to teachers for the next couple of weeks and will then send out a Google survey to the RCS community to collect feedback on this first prototype to inform their next iteration.
MVPS: MVPS has been using the design thinking process for the past six years, so prototyping is something that is very natural to the way the teachers operate. Yet, as Bo notes, “It’s always exciting, whatever we’re prototyping, and there are always pain points.” The team is going to keep prototyping different ways to make curiosity journaling an ingrained habit in their students and adapting the curriculum in real-time to the students’ curiosities.
“It’s always exciting, whatever we’re prototyping, and there are always pain points.” — Bo
Now prototype your own ideas and give and receive feedback in Evolve.