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West Island College – Do What You Can’t

by on September 1, 2017

West Island College (WIC) is a grade 7-12 university preparatory school with a student population of 550 located in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. WIC joined the MISBO + IDEO Project last year with the hopes of achieving two objectives: to better understand design thinking and to seek a more long-term, financially viable model for our independent school. Our initial small idea was to use the design thinking methodology to find ways for the College to be more fiscally sound. Our end goal was achieved but not in the direct fashion we anticipated. WIC was able to maximize our human and physical resources more efficiently with constraint thinking helping in the process.

Our journey began in the Fall of 2016 with Head of School Carol Grant-Watt and myself learning more about design thinking. Readings included Tim Brown’s Change by Design, John Spencer’s Launch, and Creative Confidence by Tom & David Kelley. From here we signed on with Marc Levinson (MISBO) and the team from IDEO, which included Miki Heller, Becky Lee, and Annette Diefenthaler. We were introduced to both teams at the start of this year before meeting with representatives from the other 11 cohort schools in Baltimore in March. Here, Carol and I experienced first-hand the messiness of design thinking; we gained a better understanding of this methodology and how to infuse it into our school culture. The MISBO and IDEO teams set the groundwork and direction for us in our journey. Our end result coming out of this March workshop was how WIC might better utilize our human and physical resources through the creation of a new grade 7/8 timetable. In April at the Montreal CAIS Leadership Conference, Ms. Grant-Watt and I presented a workshop, “Cultures of Excellence: Connecting Passion to Purpose,” which explored design thinking in addition to the ideas of Adam Morgan and Mark Barden in their book, A Beautiful Constraint.

Our journey continued in May with a follow-up workshop hosted by IDEO at their great waterfront location at Pier 28 in San Francisco. Our current junior high timetable was not providing as great an efficiency for teaching and learning as we would have liked. We empathized with our grade 7/8 student body and iterated the design of the new timetable with many of our junior high teachers in the spring. We went through about 10-12 prototypes in conjunction with introducing design thinking workshop sessions into our professional development days. There were many obstacles to overcome to make this transformation, with a few failures/setbacks at times in June with some of the technical pieces. These opportunities helped to better educate staff about design thinking and also provided them with the trials and tribulations of going through the process with a meaningful goal. The IDEO brainstorming rules were incredibly helpful in the process, not to mention all the stickies and sharpie pens that were utilized. Having a variety of faculty input allowed for a scaffolding of ideas that staff built upon in the process. The end result was a more innovative and empathetic grade 7/8 timetable that will be introduced in September 2017. I am sure we will still have a few pivots but the team feels it has been well researched, prototyped and crafted. This experience has now given us the tools to leverage what we hope to do moving forward. Not only did this redesign result in a more efficient teaching and learning framework for staff and students but also resulted in a more cost-efficient structure for the College.

Our experience working with MISBO and IDEO has been a springboard for a new way of thinking at West Island College and has initiated a culture shift to incorporate this methodology into our everyday practice. In June we sent four faculty members to Nueva School’s Design Thinking Institute to continue the awareness and momentum to create a shifting mindset in the way we do business. Thank you to Diane Rosenberg, Kim Saxe and her Nueva team for offering this great program. The design thinking culture piece was very evident at Nueva through our interactions with their teachers and students alike. We are now in the process of creating a Design Thinking for Innovation course for our senior high students and we are developing a D.Lab Club. The design thinking methodology will be used in our approach to our upcoming three-year strategic plan process this year. Many of our faculty meetings will now incorporate this human-centered design model into seeking solutions. Thank you to all the participants in the MISBO + IDEO Project. Our conversations and interactions have been transformative on our school culture and financial sustainability. I think it appropriate to finish with Ms. Carol Grant-Watt’s back to school message this year, “Do What You Can’t,” which is based on the most recent Samsung ad and is an extension of one of IDEO’s brainstorm rules to encourage wild ideas.

Scott Bennett
Head of Strategic Planning & Initiatives
West Island College

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