Designing for Innovators: The Discover Phase

Dan McWilliam, Learning Specialist – In Rocky View Schools (RVS) design thinking aims to move our staff beyond compliance-driven structures towards authentic engagement. Unlike past traditional education planning processes employed, it is an innovative approach that builds deep empathy for the needs of those RVS is designing for, generates tons of ideas, focuses on testing and sharing those ideas and empowers our front-line staff in driving solutions forward.

As defined through RVS’ School Spring Playbook, the process begins with the Discover Phase, which seeks to identify the strengths, needs and unique opportunities in each school. Through a series of design protocols, school actions teams are building empathy for the needs of staff, students and parents in developing a profile of the school. Schools also are facilitating conversations around school satisfaction survey results, provincial tests and exams and APORI results, from which driving questions will be defined and prototypes for action developed.

With students at the centre of everything we do, the Spring Playbook offers a couple of different engagement tools for consulting with students about the strengths and opportunities they see for their school. At Westbrook School, Gr. 8 students conducted interviews with younger students using the empathy interview tool from the playbook and collected the feedback to share with the school action team. Springbank Middle School took a different approach by producing its own survey for all students and the information was collected and consolidated by staff to identify themes. Whether schools used the tools provided or designed unique ways to engage students in the reflection process, this feedback is instrumental in identifying the best opportunities to focus on. 

What are we doing well? What could we work on? What new ideas might we explore in our school? These are the questions in the playbook’s LEARN Report card tool. Reflecting on RVS’ design principles, participants consider each area and provide feedback to the school action team. Many of our schools are using this simple tool at parent council meetings to gather valuable feedback and to share on the LEARN bulletin board. 

School action teams also have been tasked with gathering information to build a Diversity Profile for the school to examine the physical and social structures in place to support the diverse needs of students. Many of our schools are consulting their School Resource Teams to answer, “How are we striving to meet the diverse needs of students and what might we do as we go forward?” 

The design process is action oriented and inherently collaborative. Stakeholders have an opportunity to continue to share in the process by reviewing artifacts and evidence displayed on school LEARN bulletin boards and later this fall on RVS’ crowd sourcing site, 2023 by Design. Also watch for some schools that will be blogging about their experiences as they work through the four design phases. As John Maeda said, “Making a process visible makes a practice reflect-able.” Let’s all take a moment to reflect on the innovation happening within RVS and embrace a design thinking mindset by approaching this process with creativity, empathy and optimism!