Rapid Prototyping Leads to Insight on Process and Program at Ethel Walker School

Why don’t we use faculty meetings for deep and collaborative thinking?  Why do trustees and faculty work on parallel tracks that almost never cross?  Does our school have a portfolio of value-generating innovative projects in the pipeline that will mature over the next 1-3 years? These are some of the expansive questions we asked and pushed well down the field yesterday at Ethel Walker School.

First time I think I have posted a picture of me in reporting a school event!

First time I think I have posted a picture of me in reporting a school event!

EWS, a leading 6-12 girls day and boarding school has built a portfolio of forward leaning program initiatives, thanks largely to the visionary leadership of HOS Bessie Cromwell Speers and Asst. Head Stephen Dunn.  Now, says Bessie, it is time to take these ideations and distribute the ownership of them out to a much wider group of talented educators.  To kick this off, we went through a day-long exercise in design thinking, fueled in large part by the #DEEP DT Playbook of the Mount Vernon Institute for Innovation.  The faculty and staff are itching to go, but realize that if we want ELEGANT solutions instead of just the garden variety, we need to deeply understand our users, research and ask questions outside our normal silos, and practice authentic prototyping…all of which don’t actually take any more time than our traditional methods of narrowly-focused problem solving.

Three question/takeaways from the day:

  • Why do schools not combine their strands of strategic planning, program visioning, and accreditation studies? All of these hold key elements that revolve around the nucleus of LEARNING; they form the elements of a “pedagogical master plan” in the language of Bo Adams.  We need to evolve responsibility for this planning at a very strategic level to the professional educators, in conjunction with (or actually side by side with) our trustees and students.
  • Coordinating the goals and resources of major initiatives like we started at EWS yesterday is exactly what I had in mind when I first proposed the use of “window teams” to lead school evolution at a systems level (again, in conjunction with Bo Adams’ ideas about systemic pedagogical master planning).  Innovation will become ongoing and sustainable, not something we do once every few years.
  • CFO Thom Greenlaw, a veteran administrator and thought leader in independent school education, asked me if I was interested in facilitating trustee retreats. I told him, no, not the traditional kind, but I am VERY excited about the hybrid trustee-faculty-staff-student collaborations that we are doing at several schools.  Why have we not leveraged the power of combined trustee-faculty events in the past? The trustees report that they LOVE the opportunity, perhaps for the first time, to really work through a school issue side by side with the educators; and the teachers report that they LOVE the opportunity to know that they have input directly to trustees.  If you have not read my post on the Hollywood Black List, this is pretty much it!

Hopefully EWS will have me back as the teams progress and start to implement the plans that are closest to their current event horizon, and make real progress on prototyping those that are a bit further “over the mountain.” If they continue to show the passion and focus that I saw yesterday, I have no doubt they will get there on all counts.

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