Teachers as Civic Leaders

The Teachers Guild 2018–19 Chapters Kickoff Event

Schools are the first places we find ourselves amongst peers, learning the values of collaboration and community. In a world that feels increasingly divided, the importance of these educational spaces and the teachers at the heart of them cannot be understated.We rely on teachers to navigate the cultural and technological shifts occurring outside the classroom and to educate our youth on issues that matter. Teachers have the capacity to equip students with the tools they need to engage in public life and to instil values that are carried forward into adulthood. That is why we at The Teachers Guild believe teachers are the civic leaders our communities need.

The idea of civic leadership was the recurrent thread throughout our recent Chapters Kickoff event, where we bring together our teaching community to discuss the methods and mindsets of design thinking and its application in the classroom. This event marks the beginning of our program calendar, in which we prepare teachers to address design challenges in their school district. The Kickoff began with a ‘one conversation dinner’ held at the Stanford D. School, where teachers, principles and district leaders discussed the notion of teachers as civic leaders. The participants considered issues ranging from politics in the classroom to gun violence and school safety. The aim was not to produce steadfast answers, rather to create an environment where teachers could bring their individual experience to the table and discuss the problems that mattered to them most.

The Kickoff continued the following day at IDEO Palo Alto and the theme for the day was ‘Ecosystems.’ The Guild team considers an ecosystem to be a productive analogy for a healthy school environment: ever changing, agile and adapting for the diversity of life within it. This flexibility is central to creating a creative culture in schools, one in which students and teachers are able to be curious, collaborate and believe in their capacity to create change.

Kristen Brohm from The Innovation Center explaining the ecosystem of St. Vrain Valley Schools.

The Guild, like IDEO at large, considers empathy to be a foundation block of a creative culture. Teachers at the Kickoff were asked to brainstorm scenarios in which they would be told ‘no’ and compare this to a list of situations where they had refused a student request. This exercise urged the teachers to acknowledge their position of power in the classroom and the importance of empathy to understanding students’ mindsets. Instead of defaulting to ‘no’ the teachers were encouraged to listen to their students, step into their shoes and practice starting with questions not answers.

“One of the biggest things is to listen. Listen to ideas and concerns. And not just to adults, but also to students.”
Keishia Blake, Teacher NYC Chapter, District 11, Bronx

Later in the day Lorenzo Cooper from The Ever Forward Club led our teachers and the Guild team in a ‘taking off the mask’ exercise to demonstrate the importance of leaders revealing vulnerability within a creative culture. We were asked to consider the mask we present to the world and how this differs from our internal state. In doing this, teachers were encouraged to think deeply about their students’ behaviours because, as Lorenzo reminded us, “what you see on the outside is the tip of the iceberg.”’

Lorenzo Cooper from The Ever Forward Club sharing his story and leading us in a ‘taking off the mask’ exercise.

In our panel discussion on creative cultures the ideas of play and risk taking within learning were explored. Brendan Boyle, founder of IDEO Toy Lab, made us think about the potential of play as a tool within the classroom and urged us to dispel the notion that work and play are mutually exclusive.

“the opposite of play isn’t work, it’s boredom.”
Brendan Boyle, Founder of IDEO Toy Lab

The central aim of the Chapters Kickoff was to ignite conversations around creativity, equity and thinking and acting like a designer. The educators praised the human-centeredness of the Kickoff, where they felt valued (4.6/5) and personally seen and heard (4.5/5). Importantly, the event also generated a lot of momentum for the participants, who reported that they’ll likely continue working with somebody they met at the event (4.5/5) and are excited to collaborate more deeply with their own colleagues (4.9/5).

In bringing together our amazing community we were able to affirm that teachers are civic leaders with the ability to embrace and act on new ideas. This is exemplified by one participant’s answer to our question of “Where does the heart of creativity lie?”- “within all of us.”