Leading with Design Mindsets

Three photos are displayed next to each other. In the left photo, a group of people sit around a table, gesturing at each other. In the center photo, two people sit at a table interacting with cards on the table. In the right photo, two people write on paper and post-its.

Leading with Design Mindsets

With St. Louis Public Schools (SLPS) and Institute for School Partnerships (ISP) / 5 months

The design process can be a powerful tool for leading change in a variety of settings. The seven school leaders in the St. Louis Public School’s Re-Design Fellowship are leading the way to apply design mindsets in schools across the district. Public Design Bureau worked closely with the SLPS and ISP teams to design and lead fellows through an interactive, collaborative process to identify opportunities to realize their vision, translate these opportunities into specific and tangible ideas, test them with their community and stakeholders, and build a series of prototypes that will scale over time toward full implementation. 

Re-Design Fellows were selected by district leadership for their commitment to continuous learning, ability to think outside the box, and ability to excite and inspire those inside and outside the school community to participate in the three year program. The participating principals, from elementary, middle, and high schools across the district, also received executive coaching, evaluation support, and guidance from the district. Public Design Bureau designed half-day workshops and tools that guided the design process while complementing these other program resources. 

Process + Outputs

  • Custom-designed learning and practice workshops taught both design mindsets and methods while providing opportunities to practice on a specific effort within each Fellow’s school. Fellows worked with their team members, coaches, and colleagues to walk through a series of guided activities, during and between workshops: generating ideas, creating prototypes, seeking feedback.
  • Tangible tools to guide fellows while working independently allowed fellows to work closely with their school teams throughout this process, bringing all they had learned back to the workshops for further discussion. Each principal identified a topic area to work within, such as building school culture or improving teaching outcomes, and then generated specific ideas that could help them build towards their vision. They went through 2 rounds (at least!) of iterative prototyping during the spring 2022 fellowship, getting feedback from their staff, students, parents, community partners, and district stakeholders in order to refine, adjust, or pivot their ideas. Tangible tools for each step kept everyone focused on (literally) the same page throughout the process. 
  • Collaborative co-design of the fellowship with partners helped to meet goals for fellows and for the district. Public Design Bureau worked closely with the SLPS and ISP teams to shape a process that brought along not just the fellows but the whole district team, creating momentum for a cultural shift within district approaches. This included developing tools that fellows could use to prompt conversation with leadership and colleagues, inviting collaboration and iteration. 
  • Affirming and supportive coaching through a new process was needed to help support fellows, executive coaches, and district leaders navigate the ambiguity of design decisions. Public Design Bureau worked to affirm leaders as they traveled the uncertainty of the design process. 

Towards the end of the 2022 school year, fellows focused on one priority and developed a series of prototypes that they will implement over the 2022-2023 school year, with further support from Public Design Bureau and the fellowship program. 

Engaging in school transformation efforts can be incredibly challenging because it is hard to map out the step-by-step work needed to move from vision to actual implementation of a plan. Public Design Bureau helps leaders create realistic pathways and frameworks that move participants from vision to actual sustainable change. Through the human centered design process, individuals learn how to center their transformative vision into reality through the accessible design principles that keep people engaged in the process.

Nikki Doughty, Associate Director of Strategic Initiatives, Institute for School Partnerships at Washington University in St. Louis