I just watched a video on High Tech High School in San Diego, California, an innovative, project-based public charter school that is a truly unique learning environment. Specifically it was a message from its “main man”, Larry Rosenstock. I was in the process of putting together ideas on how to move a school where I was just named the Upper School Division Head further in the direction of real innovation in how they engaged students in the learning┬áprocess. One of the biggest pieces of that puzzle is how to encourage teachers who have considered themselves successful traditional educators to try something new.

Mr. Rosenstock mentioned the key components of meaningful learning experiences that teachers and business people alike focused on when they were given the chance to reflect on those magical moments when learning really took place. They included public displays of work, fear of failure, recognition of success, they involved the community, and they had a mentor. The were given a Design Challenge that they had to try to make work in their classroom or in their business. As I listened to the message for what was at least the 25th time it dawned on me that teachers, regardless of whether they were steeped in traditional or innovative practices, face this all of the time. Teachers are role models for exactly what innovative “thought” is all about.

For a teacher, every day they face a Design Challenge, “How do I engage my students in the learning process for the class I teach?. How do I make this an engaging class for them by walking in their shoe, developing empathy for their experience. Each class period they put on a public display of their work, have that fear that a lesson might fail, students or administrators give teachers recognition of success, it involves the “school” community, and quite often the lesson has developed from work with a mentor like a mentor teacher. For a teacher, designing a project or exhibition for a class is much like what that teacher does everyday. The good teacher obviously has a knowledge of content, but most often the successful learning takes place because the teacher communicates well, is creative in their lesson planning, collaborates with other teachers to hone their skills, and has had to engage in critical thinking in developing their own class strategies.

Teaching in an environment of Design Thinking is not a “new” concept. It is one that a good teacher engages in virtually every class period. It is no more than teaching students what the teacher does and giving them a chance to “be like me.”

David Yarborough is a Lausanne Learning Teacher Mentor and currently working as an independent contractor assisting students and families with individualized learning. Contact David and engage him as a mentor here!