It’s 11 a.m. on a Tuesday morning. Generally at this time, I’m at the gym, grocery shopping, or pondering a long list of home improvements. Today, though, I join a Google Hangout that includes a wise design consultant with fashionable eyewear; one of my son’s teachers, sitting in the teachers’ room with a constant stream of colleagues darting in and out of frame behind her; and a special needs coordinator who sits with her newborn son bathed in rays of sunlight. We talk about creating “energy maps,” how to “immerse” ourselves, and how to “be a Martian.” (Since I am a parent at the school, I describe myself as a Martian with a horse in the game, and we enjoy that hopelessly mixed metaphor for a moment.)
I didn’t envision this particular scene when I left my career as a librarian six years ago to stay home with my children. I had worked in higher education, where my teaching role was defined by training sessions or consultations with adults who sought me out for help. Despite having school-age children, I never imagined I’d be thinking this hard about elementary education - and certainly not at such close range.
It all started five years ago, when my older son began attending preschool at what was then a tiny, new and largely unknown Jewish Montessori school , Luria Academy of Brooklyn. We were attracted to Luria, and the Montessori philosophy, for its truly child-centered approach, and we have been delighted to watch both of our sons develop intellectually and spiritually there.
Luria Academy, too, has grown in every possible way. This year, there are over 130 students at a school that had about 35 when our son started. The campus has grown, the faculty has expanded, and yet the school remains the warm and loving place we came to know five years ago.
This year, Luria was selected to participate in the Day School Collaboration Network (DSCN), an initiative of The Jewish Education Project and UpStart Bay Area which aims to help Jewish day schools confront challenges that exist in their schools in a novel way: by learning the principles of Design Thinking, developed by the firm IDEO, and applying these principles to design challenges at our schools. I was asked to join Luria’s DSCN team, and, intrigued, I accepted.
In early December, I left my family at home for two days and went to New Jersey for a retreat with the other DSCN participants. I was very skeptical of my ability to contribute anything to the discussions, given that in the group of 30+ attendees, I was the only non-educator. I was quickly proven wrong, and found myself so warmly welcomed into this awe-inspiring group of teachers and school administrators, who give generously of their energy, every day, in the service of Jewish education.
At the retreat, we learned about Adaptive Leadership, learned how to do small group peer consulting on challenges participants face in their work, and learned how to diagnose challenges in ourselves and in our schools. We learned more about Design Thinking, and how to move beyond thinking of it as a way to redesign a shopping cart (as shown in the Nightline-produced example of the philosophy).
While we are still in the early phases of our process, I’m extremely excited to learn about Design Thinking (which, as a bonus, can only help me in my professional life, since libraries have also taken an interest in the philosophy), and the notion that I am part of a team that will identify and address a need at my childrens’ school makes it even more compelling for me. I’m so grateful to Luria and DSCN for the opportunity to take part.