The Role of Creative Design-Thinking in Transforming 21st Century Education



“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

I thought of the quote attributed to Henry Ford when I spoke at the SRQProjectTHINK Conference last evening. The Education Foundation of Sarasota County was proud to sponsor the illuminating forum alongside SRQ Media, CareerSource Sarasota and Ringling College of Art and Design.

ProjectTHINK is a conference for anyone who thinks or wants to think outside the box—innovators, creators, inventors and “forward thinksters.”

Innovative thinking and research drive the Education Foundation’s commitment to elevate student success by advocating for instilling a 21st century life readiness culture throughout the education continuum. This is the rationale and basis for the design of our College, Career and Life Readiness Initiative.

With collaborative and creative design-thinking, we can create catalytic change and spark a new paradigm of thinking.

Historically, such revolutionary shifts have moved at a glacial pace. Witness our steady march in the 19th and 20th centuries through Agricultural, Industrial and Technological Ages.

Two decades into the 21st century, the convergence of creativity, innovation and technology spurs rapid changes, some planned and long-lasting while others lack staying power.

In our new Creative Age, some components of society are fluidly integrating creativity into their philosophy and practice.

Others, such as education, have challenges trading the old for the shiny new 21st century model—but this is the era that today’s students and tomorrow’s leaders already are shaping. They cannot succeed in their era based on past thinking.

This is where forward, creative design-thinking enters.

Instead of investing in improving the old educational model, what can we accomplish if we rethink education for tomorrow?

This concept has been put forward by behaviorists and education experts such as popular TED talk presenter Sir Ken Robinson, authors Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith, and school change theorist Dr. Michael Fullan, who urges educators and parents to substitute the Three R’s with the Six Cs: character education, citizenship, collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking.

Dialogues about the Six C’s and variations called executive functions, life skills and socialemotional learning increasingly are taking place as research demonstrates links between emotional intelligence and success in school and life.

Fortunately, our vision to see all students graduate with a college, career and life plan that leads to success is shared by our partner, Sarasota County Schools, and we frequently meet teachers who are practicing this new thinking.

However, we also know that until a life readiness culture is embraced fully by all educators and a system-permeating growth mindset is adopted, then we have more work to do.

How much more effectively could we accomplish our mission if we ask ourselves a few questions, such as:

• “How would school look if we really embraced this concept so that the linear acceleration of kids going through school can be quantifiable in the grades they’re given and the way they measure themselves?”

• “Are we asking our children questions that open the window for them to develop creative design-thinking skills and create their own lifelong learning pathway?”

• “How could we change if we take the ProjectTHINK raison d'être to heart and challenge ourselves to internalize our creative design-thinking process?”

The challenge for all of us is to ask questions that propel us forward and enable us to prepare our children to drive into a future without us but with confidence that they will be ready, willing and able to devise solutions to questions not yet asked.

As author and innovative educator A.J. Juliani said, “Our job is not to prepare students for something. Our job is to help students prepare themselves for anything.”

Jennifer Vigne is president of the Education Foundation of Sarasota County.

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