Five Ways to Lead Your School Like a Designer

One side benefit of getting organized is that you find “hidden treasures” that you looked at once, tucked away for later, and then forgot. During my recent spring cleaning, I not only rediscovered the top of my desk, I found some jewels from as far back as last summer!

One of those treasures was ASCD’s Education Update from July 2018. The cover story for this issue was “This Year, Lead Like a Designer.” I was intrigued, so instead of putting it in the ever-growing recyle pile, I picked it up.

The lead article, written by Alyssa Gallagher and Kami Thordarson, suggests five new roles for School Leaders:

Opportunity Seekers: “Shift from problem solving to problem finding.” One of the keys to becoming an opportunity seeker is to ask questions rather trying to solve problems prematurely.

Experience Architects: “Design and curate learning experiences, based on need, that stretch the status quo.” Rethink your traditional events like open houses or parent-teacher conferences and do something different or more collaborative. For example, EL Education’s Ron Berger suggests that students lead the conference with their parent(s) – with teachers nearby as supporters. Schools that have adopted student-led conferences have connected parents in more meaningful ways with their children. And, leaders are quick to report that they don’t plan to go back to the traditional parent-teacher conference.

Rule Breakers: “Thoughtfully challenge the way we always do things. Did anyone of you flinch when you read this new role?” If you did, take a minute to think about it in a different way. Think about how you might open up dialogue by asking questions. For example, what is currently in place that might be hindering rather than helping learning? What might happen if we eliminated it?

Producers: “Hustle, get things done, create rapid learning cycles for teams, and take responsibility for shipping a ‘final’ product.” Start small by thinking of a big idea that can be segmented into small chunks. That might help you move from an idea you wish you could act on to something that gets implemented.

Storytellers: “Capture the hearts and minds of a community to amplify the good and create authentic connections.” Think of a school year as a book, with chapters that capture aspects of the school you want to become. Stories both inspire and inform. Bob Garmston is an expert on storytelling. You can read my review of his storytelling book here.

The article culminates with a chart comparing and contrasting traditional leadership with design-inspired leadership.

The article ends with the authors practicing one of their suggestions: Begin with questions.

How might you reimagine the beginning of your school year? What experience might you design, what rule might you question, what new opportunity might you discover?

So, the next time you feel stuck, think about these five aspects of design-inspired leadership. They just might inspire you to move from indecision to actions that make your school or district even better.

Cathy Gassenheimer is Executive Vice President of the Alabama Best Practices Center, a program of the A+ Education Partnership.