Three years ago, Jeremy Goldstein arrived at Episcopal High School to revamp a 40-year-old externship program. Serving as the director, he applied design thinking principles to restructure EHS’ Washington Program to best prepare students for life after high school in this changing professional landscape.
As the program previously focused on externships for seniors, Goldstein was tasked with spreading the initiative across the school and entire curriculum. Now, students in their freshman through senior year explore four main concentration areas (cultural awareness, entrepreneurship, public policy, sustainability), and gain exposure to business leaders, innovators and trailblazers defining Washington, D.C.’s professional ecosystem.
Restructuring a 40-year-old program is a tall order, and Goldstein credits design thinking practices with allowing him to turn a field trip-centric initiative into an immersive experiential learning program.
He spoke with CampusTap to discuss the value design thinking offers administrators in their efforts to optimize programming for the 21st century, how it allows for the ability to approach problems from the perspective of all stakeholders, and the impact design thinking has on students’ future success.
CampusTap: How did you initially approach restructuring the Washington Program through design thinking principles?
Jeremy Goldstein: The task at hand was to spread the program across the school and the entire curriculum, where it hadn’t been like that before. So the question was, “How do I do this when we’ve got multiple constituencies and a lot of emotion revolving around the program — which if you know enough about it, is a perfect design challenge.”
I started interviewing, and I spent the first year disrupting the program as it stands, as I had just arrived on campus as a new administrator. I gathered as much information about the program as I could, looked at it from the inside out and took it apart.
The first task in the design thinking principles that I used was to redesign the calendar to make it conducive to all academic departments and all people involved in the program. We’re moving 450 students every Wednesday and getting 70 faculty members more involved.
CT: Which design thinking principles figured most heavily into the redevelopment of the Washington Program?
JG: If you have a large organization with multiple constituencies, with multiple schedules, with multiple individuals, and multiple perspectives on the schedule, one of the best things you can do using the design thinking principles is to go ahead and really get the perception of people. One of the things that helped the most in this process was a journey map.
I basically did journey mapping for every constituency within my program. Looking at faculty, I asked, “What does their day look like when they do a field trip?” What does the day of the student look like when they have a Washington Program experience? I really wanted to get inside of where people were struggling and what people enjoyed.
I think the hardest part of design thinking is that you have to abandon the traditional way that you make decisions. You step back, gain as much empathy as possible for your stakeholders, and you have to sit back and allow them to let loose on what they feel is wrong and what they feel is great — and you have to take it all in. You make a lot of decisions as an administrator that affect a lot of people’s lives, yet you have to be empathetic to the fact that a lot of those decisions may not be the best decisions.
Design thinking allows you to flip that and say: “Before I make a decision and before I adjust something, let me figure out what the likes and dislikes are, and what the enjoyable pieces of this program are.” Through a couple of different design thinking tools, like journey mapping, you can get a good perspective on how people are experiencing what you’re administering.
CT: How do you balance different stakeholder views, as you have students who are in different grade levels and faculty/administrators that are involved in the program as well?
JG: When you determine the stakeholders and the personas of the stakeholders — which means a ninth grader, a senior, these people who come into your program — you try to make a little bit of a generalization about who they are. But what about faculty who teach in math versus faculty who teach in the arts? There’s a distinctly different experiential education profile for those two.
The ultimate goal is to create a system that has enough individual control that people are able to do it. The big thing is developing the right questions. So, instead of saying, “How do I get my ninth graders doing more things,” the big question is, “How do we engage faculty and students more on a meaningful level?” That’s really the brainstorm question and a baseline for how you develop great prototypes.
I know what the personas are and I get the feedback, but how might we do it across the board to design something where it empowers people to have some choice. Faculty are unclear as to whether they have their students in the program and what days they have them. For students, they want empowerment to design their own experience. So we created a little more choice in the program, too.
CT: What other programs at Episcopal High School could you apply design thinking to?
JG: One of the things I’ve always wanted to do, is run a full design thinking challenge profile on the parent-teacher conference. What’s really fun about being at a school like Episcopal is that you’re there, the school has its distinct schedule, and we have all of our students, traditions and community. You really have a 360-degree view of what life is like for students here because it is a specific community.
That’s what made me think, “What if we enlisted our faculty in redesigning the parent-teacher conference to be something that’s more engaging and meaningful for both sides of the house there, including the students.”
Going deeper, every technology school, including our school, always needs someone to be focusing on the UX side of email, classes and all that stuff. So, user experience is incredibly important in education. On the horizon, people are going to start talking about how people interface with technology in an educational environment. That’s really something that people are going to use design for.
CT: For educational administrators unfamiliar with the capabilities of design thinking, how do you recommend they go about exploring the practice?
JG: I think people need to define it first, through small spoonfuls of professional development.
In a school environment, my recommendation is that administrators spend time getting to know what it is. There’s no set right way to do it, but understanding the mindset in design thinking is very helpful for people. For me, it got me out of my bubble of, “I need to make decisions and hand down programming,” versus “I need to hear and design programming.” It is such a drastic difference between the two.
CT: Where do you see design thinking making a future impact on the boarding school community as a whole?
JG: I can see coursework going in that direction. I think we already do a lot of it as a faculty when we do alternative assessment. Through this you try to build up a project-based learning module where people are doing more collaborative and design-style work.
A couple of schools have courses in design thinking now, and that’s pretty big, but there’s a saying in the program director world of independent education that goes something like, “If you’re going to implement something new, your message needs to mirror the head of school’s message.” The school community has to fully commit to it. So if there is going to be a design thinking program, that has to be in the intention and philosophy of the school. It’s hard to start that grassroots, but I think that schools in general are starting to head in the direction of a flexible design mindset.
CT: Thinking more about working design thinking into coursework and curriculum, what are the benefits of teaching students design thinking practices?
JG: There is a statistic that states 65 percent of the jobs that our students will have in adulthood have not been invented yet.
The design mindset is pretty interesting, because what it does is allow people to break the mold of how they used to be making decisions. Aside from that, we’re getting feedback from companies like Google and startups that state you can’t just think in a traditional way. You’re going to have to have a signifier that allows you to break the mold.
I use it to introduce students to a new way of thinking. To be honest, even the seniors, I think if we worked more with them on developing the thought process that they shouldn’t stress the right way to do things but stress more the way to do things so it connects with humans and people, they’re going to be better off.
A big element of leadership — when you go your own way and start doing your own things — is being able to work with other people. So the collaborative element of design thinking is extremely relevant to that.
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Image courtesy Jeremy Goldstein