Community Design Labs

By

Carole Basile

This article is the third in a series on reimagining the 21st-century college of education by Carole Basile, dean of ASU's Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Read the first two installments, Reimagining the college of education for the 21st century and Envisioning a 21st-century education workforce.

Reimagining the education workforce won’t gain traction unless we also reimagine our schools and education organizations. Our bet is that a great college of education can combine its convening power, intellectual capital and human capital in an open-ended design process that values local context, diverse perspectives, intrapreneurial thinking and iterative testing of solutions. We are already partnering with schools and districts in this kind of work, building a flexible process through which our faculty, staff and students, working with partners in schools, can address issues of different scale.

In one district, we’re working with the district’s leadership team on five challenges they identified, ranging from how a school can best retain educators to how the district can change the perception of public education. Our faculty and staff are guiding the design teams through a structured process that begins with gaining a deep understanding of all the stakeholders for whom they are designing solutions. Another project asks how a district can address competitive pressure by developing stronger school identities. Each school in the district has formed a design team that includes teachers, administrators, parents and students, and each team is spending several months exploring answers to core questions: Who are we as a school? And if this is who we are, what does it look like when you walk into a classroom?

We’re facilitating a third design lab with a district that wants to build the school of the future -- one that prepares students to be innovators and leaders and reinvigorates the teaching profession by deploying educators in new ways to support these students. In this last case, we are deploying one of our strategic initiatives (a community design lab) to develop ways of advancing another (reengineering the workforce). In doing so, we intend to deliver meaningful practical value to our P-12 school partners.

It’s important that our community design labs do not become instances in which a university simply applies its expertise in schools. Principals and superintendents don’t need yet more people coming into their schools and saying, “you’re doing it wrong.” This is about deep collaboration in which our faculty, staff and students work closely with administrators, teachers, parents, school students, community foundations and others to ask the right questions, define problems and test prototypes. Above all, this is about building capacity in schools and communities so they can bring a creative design lens to problem-solving and incorporate this approach into the district culture. It’s about being in it for the long haul.