Building Agency in Education: The Power of Co-Designing, Co-Creating, and Co-Learning
Educational leaders are constantly seeking new and innovative ways to drive change and improve outcomes for our students. Too often, we rely solely on our own expertise and experience to shape the direction of our schools and districts. This can lead to a lack of buy-in from staff members and a lack of sustainability for our initiatives.
But what if we could leverage the expertise and creativity of our teams to co-design, co-learn, and co-create solutions to the challenges we face? I wanted to take a few minutes and explore these three concepts and explain how they can be used to drive collaborative change and increase agency across your schools and districts.
And who knows, maybe when we provide agency to our staff maybe, they, in turn, can ignite some agency for our kids.
Co-Design as Collaborative Design Process that Buikds from Empathy. Co-design is an approach to problem-solving that emphasizes collaboration and collective creativity. Rather than relying solely on top-down decision-making, co-design involves bringing together stakeholders from across the organization to identify and solve problems collaboratively.
“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” — Steve Jobs
This approach draws on design thinking principles emphasizing empathy, ideation, and iteration. Here are three general steps (and a link to one of our free courses) to get started.
- To implement co-design, leaders can identify a challenge or opportunity that is impacting multiple stakeholders.
- Once a challenge or opportunity is staged, convene diverse individuals, including teachers, administrators, students, parents, and community members, to work together on a solution.
- This group should engage in the stages of design thinking that help groups empathize with all stakeholders’ needs, ideating potential solutions, and prototyping and testing those solutions in a safe environment. (You can take our Design Thinking course, which has a huge amount of relevance to educators, for free here)
When going through a design thinking process with a human-centered lens, teams can develop a solution that is more innovative, effective, and sustainable than one that a single individual or small group designed. Give it a try and see if your results gain some traction!
Co-Learning as Learning Together as a Community. Co-learn is an approach to professional development that emphasizes collaboration and collective learning. Rather than relying solely on traditional forms of professional development, such as workshops and seminars, co-learning involves cuktivating a community of learners who work together to improve their practice. It takes time and intention to develop a school or district as a learning community that is willing to share knowledge, skills, and resources and engage in collaborative inquiry and reflection. A few things to consider.
- Bring people together around a shared data set that matters to them. Test scores aren’t always compelling, but let’s say your school-wide data shows that students don’t feel connected to their peers. That might be a more meaningful piece of data to gather around and make a plan to address.
- Consider a common pain point that drives people (families, teachers, etc.) crazy. As a parent, I could see the proverbial “car line” to drop our kids off as a pain point that could use collective action. Look for opportunities to bring people together when there is a pain point across stakeholder groups.
- Focus on a growth mindset, and realize that not everyone has the same focus on growth. What would it look like if you offered up a challenge, one that says something like, “Are you and a few colleagues interested in learning together? Bring your ideas, budgets, and timeline to see what we can learn together this year!” You might find that you will more than cover your required professional development, empower teams, model agency, and have staff design experiences for their peers to share their learning in ways that matter more than a workshop.
“The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” — Phil Jackson
Co-Creation as Collaborative Decision-Making: Co-creation is an approach to decision-making that emphasizes collaboration and collective ownership. Rather than relying solely on top-down decision-making, co-creation involves bringing together stakeholders from across the organization to make decisions collaboratively. An excellent market example of co-creation is the Lego Design Challenge, where kids can design their own Lego, send it in, and have the directions designed and built out by Master Builders (and shared in the Lego library online). An excellent challenge for leadership teams is to take something you would typically solve alone and offer it as a co-create opportunity.
Remember that one guiding philosophy has to be in your corner, “Slow down to go fast,” because co-creation can take some time. However, the results are usually much better than when quickly addressed in isolation, so don’t let that stop you!
By leveraging co-design, co-learning, and co-creation, educational leaders can intentionally design more collaborative and inclusive environments that can drive meaningful change that is designed collaboratively for the people who matter most. These approaches can increase agency for staff members and lead to more innovative and effective solutions. As you consider your leadership practices, take some time to reflect on how to incorporate co-concepts (design, learn, create) into your work.
If you’re up for a challenge, try it out; I would love to know how it goes.