Student Teachers + Design Thinking = Changemakers

MLFTC teacher candidates in the Washington Elementary School District created change this semester.

Michele Amrein (Division I clinical faculty) and I (Lisa Wyatt, Design Initiatives) collaboratively piloted a semester-long design project with fourteen teacher candidates in Term 7 early childhood and Term 8 elementary placements.

The project’s goal was to introduce “educator as designer” mindsets into the student teaching experience and help students develop tools for creating positive change. Design teams of 2-4 students selected their topics, framed “How might we…” questions, conducted research, interviewed mentor teachers and other experts, developed possible approaches, and then implemented one approach for several weeks. Each design team created a website to document their journey.

Initially, students were skeptical. As Bailee said in September, “I feel like now in my life, student teaching, is not the time for me to worry about the problems in education….For now, I will leave ‘refacing education’ to the seasoned teachers.’”

But as teacher candidates began to develop their possible approaches and implement their ideas, they noticed positive impacts for their students and classrooms. Janeth’s group explored how to provide social-emotional support for students. Janeth reflected, “This project has influenced my teaching by allowing me to make time to get to know my students more throughout the year and not just during the first weeks of school. My classroom environment feels a lot more open, and each week more students want to share their responses with the entire class.”

There were benefits for teacher candidates, as well. As Adriana, whose group researched how to increase student engagement, said, “I learned how to collaborate [on] ideas with others. It allows me to see how I can face challenges with peers....Not only that, but it allowed me to open up to try new things.”

Washington mentor teachers were closely involved with the pilot. “Positive struggle is something new teachers will face, and many of them don’t know how to handle it,” said mentor Christa Matthews. “This is great practice for them!”

Design teams shared their projects at a culminating showcase event held at the Washington District Office on November 14. Principals, mentors and MLFTC audience members were impressed by students’ professionalism, thoughtful reflections and creative implementation. Dr. Mel Bertrand commented, “I think these experiences teach future or new teachers that knowledge about how to improve teaching doesn’t just lie with the mentor teacher or with some researchers who are considered experts but, rather, with them as well.”

While it is difficult to measure mindsets, teacher candidates’ reflections seem to indicate that projects like this may be one way to build education changemakers. As Seni, a new math teacher, said, “I think that this project has made me realize that although there are things that are inevitable and we can’t solve every problem with one education system, if we work together, things CAN happen. This project has made me open to trying to tackle some of the problems others are too scared to tackle.”

Now that’s something I wouldn’t change.

Quotes from students

“I will continue to look for problems in schools and finding my way in tackling them. Through this project I realize there are many people who feel the same and would most likely be willing to get on board to make a change.”
-Justi, term 7

“This project influenced my teaching since it helped us notice how no challenge is too big.”
-Evelyn, term 8

“...the reason I was so passionate about this project is because it was something that I personally care deeply about, which made me excited to want to implement it in my classroom.”
-Christen, term 8

“This project gave me a deeper look into problem-based learning and thinking and I think I'd be more likely to include this sort of teaching in my own classroom if given the opportunity.”
-Anna, term 8

“I believe that my project will help bring parents closer to my classroom, which was my whole project goal. I will continue with my weekly newsletter…. My last mentor, who was at the presentation, even asked me for a copy of mine to use in her own classroom.”
-Tommy, term 8

For more information about this project, please contact Lisa Wyatt at lisa.g.wyatt@asu.edu