Teachers as designers: Reframing problems, How Might We…?

post itsThe view of teachers is evolving from technicians who implement the educational ideas and procedures of curriculum to teachers as designers of learning environments and as experts in the art and science of teaching. (OECD p.21).

As designers of learning and learning environments, design thinking is a necessary skill for educators to learn and apply. However, professionals ‘designers’ – architecture, technology, fashion or interiors – have spent years dedicated to the pursuit of this specialisation, so how can educators, almost by decree, become designers?

First things first, why does design thinking matter?

Do you find the pace of change overwhelming? It will never be this slow again. 

If the speed and intensity of change continues apace, the ecosystem of the learning environment needs to be adaptable to the prevailing and changing conditions? The same thinking that brought us to this point, does not necessarily have the capacity to take us to the next level. A design mindset supports us see the problems and develop new solutions through applying a creative process. Is this for all educators?

Tim Brown, IDEO CEO sees design thinking as accessible to all. In his book Change by Design (2009), he explains how the tools of professional designers, “can be put into the hands who may never have thought of themselves as designers and apply them to a vastly greater range of problems” (p.4). The core ideas of design thinking:

  • Human-centred problem solving
  • Tap into our ability to be intuitive, recognise patterns and construct ideas
  • Express ourselves in a range of creative ways, not just words
  • Shift from an over-reliance on the linear, rational and analytical processes
  • Generating ideas and prototyping, then testing

Empathy, as I have written in an earlier post is the starting point for design thinking. The next step is reframing problems.

Reframing problems: How might we…?

To shift from a problem orientation that leads to linear, rational analysing and perhaps a dead-end, the situation needs to reframed toward a solution orientation, posing the ‘How Might We…’ question.

Like IDEO, Stanford D-School have been leaders in design thinking. They utilise ‘How Might We…’ questions to reframe the problem and develop ideas – or ideate, “The goal is to create questions that provoke meaningful and relevant ideas, by keeping the questions insightful and nuanced”.

Are you focusing on the right problem?

Here is an example of reframing: The Slow Elevator Problem
(from HBR  reference below)

The tenants in an office building were complaining about the elevator. It’s old and slow, and they had to wait a lot. Several tenants were threatening to break their leases if the problem wasn’t fixed.

Screen Shot 2018-07-01 at 6.07.04 pm

But after investigation, the problem was reframed:  How might we make the wait feel shorter?

What are the problems you are facing?

There isn’t any time for ‘creative’ learning

These new learning spaces won’t work

De-motivated and disengaged students are disrupting other learners

It takes too much time to plan to team-teach

How might these be reframed?
Let me know how I can help your team.



Brown, T., & Katz, B. (2009). Change by design: How design thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation.

Paniagua, A. and D. Istance, 2018, Teachers as Designers of Learning Environments: The Importance of Innovative Pedagogies, Educational Research and Innovation, OECD Publishing, Paris

Stanford D-School Resources: How Might We Questions

Wedell-Wedellsborg, T (2017) “Are you solving the right problems?” HBR Jan-Feb 2017 Issue https://hbr.org/2017/01/are-you-solving-the-right-problems

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