The other day the superintendent of schools posed an interesting question to a group of administrators. If there are magnet schools for STEM, and magnet schools for the performing arts, why couldn't there be a magnet school for kindness? He went on to ask the group to think about what we would do if money was no object, to create a school free from the scourge of bullying and mean behavior so prevalent in schools today.
After the initial "yeah, right, if only" moment passed, after the "but money is the object in public schools" moment passed, the thought remained. Tantalizing in the abstract. The idea is almost too audacious to dismiss. Despite the gravitational pull of how this could never happen given the present state of our schools and the present state of our society, the idea continued to percolate to the surface.
Creating this school is not a money issue; it is a design challenge. Sometimes it is difficult to see it this way. After all, according to Roman Mars, good design is 99 percent invisible. To help schools grapple with these problems, Design Thinking for Educators was created in 2010 as a collaborative effort between Riverdale Country School in NYC and the global design company IDEO. (©2012 IDEO LLC. All rights reserved. http://designthinkingforeducators.com ) In their toolkit, all design challenges start with these three words: "How might we...?"
How might we create a school themed around kindness, respect, civility, and cultural competence? How might we design the systems and processes to significantly reduce mean behavior and deal with the full spectrum of all student behavior more proactively and effectively as part of daily instruction?
How might we create a middle school that truly develops its students' responsible independence as learners and as people? How might we design a school experience that helps students to consistently put forth their best selves in school, online, and in the wider community?
Every design challenge starts with these three words. The words that come after are difficult and complex, but isn't that all the more reason to make the attempt? As JFK said about space exploration, we should choose these challenges, "...not because they are easy, but becasue they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win."
So, how might we?