Working with educators inspires us in a multitude of ways: to understand exactly where the gaps are in educating our world’s youth and how we can work together to fix it; to enhance our product to make the lives of educators and students even easier as they empower students with our platform; and to never stop questioning and learning.
In this spirit, we sat down with some of the key educators from across the world to get their perspectives on some questions we not only had on our mind, but questions that we are hearing the entire educational community ask. Questions such as: What kind of change must be affected in education? What kinds of technology are you using to affect that change? What kinds of patterns do you see emerging in the field? What’s next?
And now, we want to share the answers we found with you. Because only by sharing the views of all of us working to affect change in education — from the thought leaders we interviewed to every single teacher changing lives in the classroom — can we open up the conversation and begin to move the needle.
Read on for an exclusive interview with educational changemaker Lisa Yokana, Teacher & Changemaker at Scarsdale High School. This is one post in our #eduinnovator series, highlighting quotes from the 16 percent of educators who key thought leaders of education, where we go in-depth on the key trends in education, innovation, and how we can rethink traditional frameworks of education.
Process is More Important Than the End-Goal
I haven’t always been an educator. I spent my first year out of college teaching and then worked in a museum for a while (my Masters was in Art History). A few other careers later, I returned to education as an art teacher, teaching art and art history for a bunch of different private schools, before joining Scarsdale where I am today.
When I started teaching studio art, something shifted in my teaching mentality. I started to realize there was a major gap in education — students were only end-goal oriented because the process wasn’t important, only the grade. The problem here is, that the process is where the learning happens. This motivated me to start asking questions. Questions like: How do I slow kids down? How do I get kids to think about the learning and get excited about it? How do we get students to not be so dependent on us to help them? Because often times, when students got stuck they would simply say, “Just tell me what you want me to do.” If this is the end goal of education, then we are doing it wrong. How do we get kids to think and work through real problems?
It starts with creating the right mindsets. I want students to be resilient, to be able to handle failure. I want them to get excited about life and the real world.
Design Thinking: Teaching Students to Solve Real-World Problems
I use Design Thinking as a process for students to tackle conflicts and problems, so that they can ultimately find solutions on their own. Design thinking codifies the process and gives educators a common language when discussing and implementing the process. I can say to parents and students, “Here is a process that can be used throughout life.”
The most important result of Design Teaching is that it allows you to teach students true resilience, by learning from failure. This is something that most contemporary students do not do, because of all the pressure to achieve good grades and the lack of time.
The current model of education only instills in students how to get a grade and go to a specific track in college.
Gradually, my practice has evolved so I have integrated and am working with students on more and more real problems. For example, we have architecture programs where we create the curriculum so it centers on student-centered design (how space affects students). Through this, we make students more aware of their surroundings so they can design their own spaces that make room for their emotions and feelings in the learning process. Then, they can tackle a real problem outside the classroom — so they’ll do projects where they redesign public spaces, other school spaces, the public library, and more. It is also so important to take your students out into the real world to get them inspired.
We see first hand how giving students an authentic problem to solve, for a real audience, gets kids so charged and excited. Why? Because finally, they are doing something real that makes an impact, and people are actually going to listen to them.
Something brilliant happens when you, as the teacher, no longer hold the power. “This is no longer my problem to solve, this is yours. Figure it out.”
I’m not going to micromanage. Sure, I still hold the power of the grade, but the responsibility shifts — towards the students. And we are seeing this sort of learning really work in practice. The student groups who were on fire and performing the best were the ones who really took on this responsibility. If we’re in the final leg of a project, and the students need some motivation, there are many times when I will say, “Hey, you all are at various stages of this project, and it needs to be done. I’m not in charge right now, you are.” If what I need to do is leave the room so they get it done, then I will.
When you take students out into the real world and give them the responsibility to create real products and designs for the world, they learn the process and take it with them to other aspects of their life. It blows their mind! And so goes the evolution of my practice as a teacher.
Engage Your Students When Building Curriculum
How do you do this? Well, it can start with the physical space. At the beginning of the year, I will put all the furniture in the middle of the room and tell the students, “This is your space. You design the room.” Then, they pick up the furniture and move it around, and we deconstruct it to understand their thinking process. They think through all the intricacies, asking questions like who will use this room and what will it be used for? As they go through the process, the power shifts, and they start to feel more ownership over the classroom. We should all be involving the students in this process more. It is such a great and easy way to get student agency started and give them power.
I’m also conscious about where I sit or stand in the room. If I’m talking to students, I’ll sit next to them. I don’t stand at the front of the room and deliver. This isn’t the way my class is designed, because this isn’t what learning is about. I’m not here to impart knowledge to you, to stand here and deliver content. Students don’t listen if this is the case; they don’t own it because it is not relevant, and if they don’t own it, then they will not remember and use it.
A question I often ask myself is “What do I have to get students to do, so they figure out this knowledge?” I give them important pieces of information and ask them to figure out what they mean, how they are related and why they are important.
Creativity Trumps Content
As educators we must keep in mind that our main responsibility is to prepare our students to go out into the world and be successful. But we have taken all the hands-on doing out of education, and all we do is teach out of textbooks. It doesn’t work. Kids must learn to think. They need to learn a process to work through different problems. My generation created these messy, sticky problems, so you need to have a process to think about how to solve these issues. It’s high stakes, and it’s imperative to teach kids how to solve these types of problems.
Also, education must become more relevant and connected to the learner because if it is not relevant, they will not retain it. Content is no longer a commodity; we don’t hold the power anymore as keepers of this educational content, because they have it all at their fingertips. Now, we are competing for their attention. We must give them the tools to think differently, to take a problem and pivot, to find information in analogous settings.
The creative spark is so important, and igniting it is even more important. Architects, designers, artists, and even engineers ….they have all been thinking this way. If you look at Einstein and even further back, they talk about this spark. The ability to think creatively is a huge boon no matter what you do. We must inspire our children to think differently.
Don’t Be Afraid to Co-Design With Your Students
Don’t be afraid to try something. Problems are so big now that it’s really easy to be overwhelmed and think, “I can’t make a difference. I can’t do anything.” Just try something, something little. Because even with a complex system, if you change one little thing, you’ll see a result. Don’t be afraid to just try something. If it fails, it fails. You’ve learned something.
That bias towards action is huge – and people get stuck. Educators talk and talk and talk, and then they don’t do anything. Young teachers – don’t be afraid to play with your curriculum, you’re not going to plan a lesson and have it be perfect, because it will always change based on the students, the time of day, where you are in the year. When you are a teacher you must remember that you are designers, designers of curriculum. Don’t be afraid to co-design with your students. Ask them, “I want this to be a meaningful experience. What do you guys think? How might we design something together that would be a really great way to end the year?”
Don’t be afraid to design together. The most powerful experiences I’ve had as an educator is through co-designing. Students are our end users, why aren’t we designing with them, for them?
Don’t let resources hold you back either. The more constraints you have, the more creative you have to be. At the end of the day, you can do a lot with popsicle sticks and play doh.
People always ask, “How are you handling educational policy?” My answer is this; I’m not going to fix it or touch it. If we teachers can band together and just encourage others to try something… then we have a revolution on their hands, and then you’ll bring along the kids as well. Don’t wait for the administration, because they will not do it — they’re too busy administering. But when the kids are excited? Well, that’s empowering as an educator and an administrator. It’s hard to argue with excited kids and parents. Let’s be the change that education needs and let’s do it together.
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More About Lisa
Full of energy, Lisa Yokana has been called a “spark plug” or “firecracker.” “Raised in Princeton New Jersey, I spent four great years at Williams College and then got a Masters in Art History at Columbia. I worked in the curatorial department at the Guggenheim for several years, before I realized I needed to really DO something. Since then, it’s been education that fascinates me. I am convinced that we need to change the paradigm of education to better prepare students for their world. The present model is no longer valid and students are coming out of schools asking ‘what now?’ and rightly so.”