“What Can I Leave Behind?”, and More via Design 39 Campus

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“What Can I Leave Behind?”, and More via Design 39 Campus

If your faculty meetings feel a bit stale, repetitive, or formulaic, read on!

 The faculty team for the new public Design 39 Campus in Poway Unified is starting to grow, and I got to sit in yesterday on one of their weekly meetings as they build towards the August opening.  I wanted to share what I thought were several innovative, if not unique, short activities that are helping the team to mentally unwrap some of their past silos of thinking while leveraging a more nimble, collaborative, design-based, student-centered approach that will be the hallmark of D39C. I am going to use at least one of these (What Can I Leave Behind?) as a thinking warm-up with some of the school teams I am working with!

 Founding principal Sonya Wrisley asked everyone to toss out the one word that best expresses why he or she wants to teach at D39C.  I wish I had written them all down. I heard “passion, change, transformation, experience, challenge, collaboration, excitement” among others.  Can everyone at your school boil down to one word why they want to come to work each day?

 BipNYCpCQAALM_AKelley Eveleth asked the 14-member team to group according to approximate grade level, and then write down on post-it notes everything they currently have in their classrooms. At D39C, teachers will share classrooms across a “pod”, so this founding group of faculty will collectively decide what to bring from their current schools and what to leave behind.  In just five minutes the teams generated a flood of post-it notes, and then started mapping them into categories.  At this stage there was no selection; that will come later.  (“I guess I can get rid of my VHS tape of ‘Johnny Tremain’!”) I will use a variant of this activity as a thought-exercise with faculty who are NOT opening a new school: “What in your classroom is core to the learning experience, and why? What could you leave behind? Why do you keep stuff that is not key to learning?”

 BipgxGSCMAIfI1FKyle Asmus and Megan Power led the group through a self-identification of their “superpowers”.  Part of the hiring selection process for D39C is to find teachers who bring a diverse array of strengths, not just as teachers, but as educational leaders.  These superpowers might be in a particular subject area or an outside passion or interest that they can amplify with students.  At D39C, every teacher will be expected to lead in something, not only in the classroom but also as a resource to colleagues across pod levels.  In this activity, each teacher identified both the grade range and superpower areas where they felt both “hot” and “mild”, since at this point, no one has a lock on any grade level or subject area! (And the term “grade level” is being phased out, since students will be in multi-age pods, not grades.)

 We finished with a short exercise of “I like, I wish, I wonder”, an exercise that so many of us are finding useful as a quick reflection and feedback mechanism after generating a raft of ideas. 

 I learn so much from watching this process evolve!  Want to visit a school where “innovation” will be deeply embedded in the DNA? Remind yourself to give me a shout and schedule a visit to D39C sometime next year.


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  1. Jennifer B warren March 18, 2014 at 11:25 pm - Reply

    Dear Grant,

    I am a college counselor, but have been involved in education for over thirty years, most of them in the classroom. i just came across your blog via ACCIS and am so glad you are highlighting wonderful schools.

    You might want to check out Verde Valley School, in Sedona, AZ!!

    Keep up the great work!!!

    • glichtman March 19, 2014 at 12:53 am - Reply

      Thanks, Jennifer; so many great schools, so little time! Will check out their web site.

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