Skip to content

Into the Woods

Design Expedition 1
Start Date: 150319
Primary Partner: Jessica Henrikson- “Attendance Czar”
Additional Partners:

Knock at the Door:

I stopped by the attendance office to ask Jessica a question.  A number of people were in the office discussing with her where a new printer/copier for students would go.  The discussion concerned moving some items around to make room for the machine in the corner between Jessica’s desk and the entrance to Liz’s office.  Someone asked whether or not Jessica had considered re-organizing the furniture in the office.  She indicated that she had considered some possibilities.  She shrugged at the idea of actually making any changes and seemed to accept the new machine and its place in her space.  At this point, I offered to help her think about redesigning the space.  We set our first appointment for the following Monday.

In the Woods:

Jessica was remarkably generous with her time throughout the process.  She has been remarkably forthcoming and honest about every phase of her work at Providence Day.  We engaged in 3 or 4 formal interviews and had another 3 or 4 informal encounters that continued our discussion of and thinking about learning, space, the attendance office, her role, and the role of those professionals working around her.  I took notes during most of these interactions and got Jessica’s feedback about the patterns and themes I saw emerging.  Based our conversations, we addressed the following:

  • students use the space and personnel in the space for all sorts of reasons/purposes.
  • Jessica has an official position (Attendance Czar).
  • she also has an unofficial position (potentially made possible by her unassuming official role) that entails caring for all of the students coming through the attendance office.
  • there are constraints that hinder or prevent some of the good work Jessica is or could be doing in both positions, official and unofficial.
  • attending to students is central to her professional reasons for being.
  • more support and attention could be provided in terms of developing Jessica.
  • the student experience in the attendance office could be broadened and enhanced with some intentional efforts.

Return Home / Listening for knocks at the door:

We ended the year agreeing that with our considerable insights in hand we were not finished with our expedition.  We agreed that we would continue to unpack her role and the space where she enacts that role.  Further, we agreed we would advocate for changes to the space as well as changes in the ways we think about how best to leverage Jessica.  At the beginning of the 2015-16 year, we were both ready to continue thinking together about how to improve the experience for students as well as for Jessica.  Our initial steps in fall of 2015 will be to head back into the woods while getting more and more feedback and response from the various stakeholders and constituents impacted by the work of the attendance office.

Design Expedition 7- “6th Grade End of Year Capstone Assessment”
Start Date: 151029
Primary Partner(s): Michael Magno, Matt Scully
Additional Partners: Andrea Downs, Sarah Goodman, Connie Scully, Bobby Thompson

Knock at the Door:

Early in the week of the 29th, Matt told me about the middle school team designing an end of year capstone assessment for 6th grade students.  Possibilities had been discussed between Matt and Michael regarding the opportunity to craft a design experience for the team (Andrea Downs, Sarah Goodman, Connie Scully, and Bobby Thompson).  The team got approval for a professional day to take place on Monday, November 2nd.  Matt and I met with Michael on the 29th to discuss further details of the team’s progress up to that point as well as what we could do to help facilitate a design experience to move the team forward on a number of project agenda items.  I met with Michael again on the 30th to get more details and have more discussion regarding his expectations for the first 3 hours the team’s professional day, which were to be given over to a design experience.   

In the Woods:

Ultimately, Michael proposed that the morning time be focused on the following three items from the overarching agenda: 1. actual assessment / rubrics; 2. tasks / what will students do; 3. identifying problems to be posed to teams of 6th graders.  Further, we planned to undertake some experience and discussion that would help to clarify overarching/undergirding values not only for the capstone itself but also the middle school as a whole in terms of identity.  

The experience began that Monday morning (with torrential rain outside) around 8:20am in a conference room in the field house.  The experience was broadly outlined in an email to participants as follows:

  • Welcome/Logistics
  • Capturing a Capstone / Rendering Rubrics
  • Collaborative Perspectives
  • Data Gathering
  • Data Analysis / Problem-posing

After welcoming participants and inviting them to be human and take care of themselves throughout, we highlighted the goals of the experience: offering prompting and provocation for an ongoing process as well as movement toward version 1.0s for various elements of the capstone.  We set our intentions by thinking about perspective taking and asking: What do we want 6th students to feel and experience?  

After sharing memories of being in middle school, the team generated post-its in answer to our initial question and began categorizing those ideas around self-developed themes.  Picking one of those ideas, participants built physical manifestations of one idea with Lego.  Participants presented their sculptures and discussed the ideas and values they represented.  Following some discussion and identifying roses/buds/thorns of one possible rubric for assessing creativity, participants used the rubric to assess one another’s Lego sculptures.  This practical use of the rubric allowed for a renewed look at the rubric, and participants adjusted their rose/bud/thorn observations on a group post-it.  

The next round of idea generation was aimed at thinking through the tasks and activities students would undertake as part of the capstone.  Having generated a considerable number of possibilities, participants told a yes-and story about the capstone they could imagine happening at the end of the year.  This story moved back and forth between the form and the essence of the capstone.  We took this opportunity to also discuss the generative power of a Yes-and approach.

We then discussed the attitudes and operations necessary for conducting an empathy interview.  Participants were encouraged to get in the ball pit of middle school and take on the perspectives of their students.  Due to the rain, we chose not to send participants out to practice empathy interviews.  Instead, participants were given the opportunity to generate ideas for problems to be posed to the 6th grade teams based on their own ideas and understanding of 6th grade.  

The design experience ended with the briefest of recaps to highlight how well the group has been working and how much really good thinking has already gone into designing the capstone.  The group is well on their way to an amazing version 1.0 this coming spring.  We officially ended our design experience at 11:00am.

Return Home / Listening for knocks at the door:

As I departed the morning session, I offered to provide whatever additional support the group might find helpful.  I followed up briefly with Matt (who stayed around for the balance of the day) and even more briefly with Michael.  In terms of a sampling of the further analysis that might be possible, based on the data generated and the memories shared, I have a number of design questions you could ask yourselves to possibly inform your work moving forward:

  • How might we, as we design the capstone as a team, continue to embody and exemplify the practices and principles we want to see in our students?
  • How might we invite even more middle school faculty into this process as an opportunity to engage even more people in the impressive work already underway?
  • How might we invite even more students into the process as we craft a singular sort of signature middle school event?
    • How might we continue to explore the possibility of intentionally creating the capstone to become a signature middle school event?
  • How might we continue to strike a healthy balance between considering the form and the essence of the capstone?
    • How might we continue to give ourselves permission to always return to values and essence while responsibly attending to the logistics and form of the capstone?


%d bloggers like this: