What can a wildly diverse group of architects, engineers, educators, and district administrators teach us about how to transform the K-12 learning experience? Plenty.
As I posted last week, I am involved in helping to design and build a new public middle school in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Our charge: build the best school in America and make it a core of the community. As I mentioned in that post, such an audacious goal would not be possible were it not for the most “obstinately visionary” (my new favorite hashtag!) group of district leaders I have ever worked with.
It turns out that there is a second critical ingredient: the most radically inclusive group of design professionals I have ever encountered. This team includes architects, landscape architects, structural and civil engineers, air/water/electrical systems engineer-planners, sustainability wonks…and of course the district leader-user-customers.
Over two half-day sessions experts delivered short, directed presentations on their respective areas of focus, ending with a set of driving questions. These included:
- Vision for the school
- Building systems
- Human health and wellness
After each presentation, we broke into working groups to generate ideas, directions, and focus areas for deeper dives. Each working group had representatives from each of the disciplinary teams, and attendees re-shuffled for each session. We summarized the top areas of focus from the breakouts and reported back to the full group. This is EXACTLY what we mean when we use a “team of teams” approach as outlined by retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal in the book of that name. Information is generated and shared across disciplines, contributed by and accessible to anyone who needs it. Having been involved in major construction projects in the past, I estimate we short-circuited several months of traditional silo-based meetings, while leaping towards a design that is specifically tailored to THIS site in THIS community for THIS vision of future learning. This is not going to be a cookie-cutter school.
What might this approach look like in your school or district if you are NOT planning a new building or a new campus? Simple: replace “architects, engineers, and district edu-leaders etc” with “teachers, administrators, students, trustees, parents, and outside edu-leaders”. Replace the topical reports and breakouts with challenges like:
- Building a powerful differentiated value proposition
- Evaluation and assessments
- Student engagement practices
- Aligning uses of time and space with desired learning outcomes
Invite department heads AND also those without the big titles. Create opportunities and access for those who actually do the work to be involved in the design of direction, strategy, and planning. Create cross-pollinating breakout teams that morph and reform frequently to maximize the range of interdisciplinary connections. These are the keys to a team-of-teams approach that has proven so effective in managing complex organizations in our increasingly VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world.