By any measure of success — academic performance, school spirit, community involvement, university placement — Elmwood School for girls enjoys an outstanding reputation for achievement. The private school offers a supportive environment where girls learn to find their own voice, and where they are challenged to reach their full potential as lifelong learners, responsible leaders and global citizens.
Elmwood is the only school in Ottawa accredited to deliver all three levels of the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme for students in Pre-kindergarten to Grade 12, and maintaining high standards of excellence comes with the turf. What keeps this century-old school on the leading edge of today’s 21st-century world is that progressive thinking never takes a holiday at Elmwood. Faculty are constantly on the lookout for effective new ways for keeping the curriculum fresh and responsive to student needs, but they appear to have hit one out of the park with their foray into the world of “design thinking.”
Elmwood Head of School, Cheryl Boughton, said she was looking for an innovative tool to map out a curriculum review in the fall of 2015 when she was directed to NoTosh Inc., a global consulting firm that specializes in educational innovation and the use of design thinking to solve organizational challenges. She soon discovered that the company’s methodology was an agile tool for just about any school application.
“I was looking for a process that would harness the collective wisdom, energy and creativity of my staff in reviewing our curriculum,” Boughton said. “Design thinking gave us a mechanism by which we could unleash the talent that was already inside these walls.”
NoTosh was a perfect fit within Elmwood’s collaborative school environment. Company CEO Ewan McIntosh led the faculty through the design thinking process that begins with fully defining a problem as a team before considering possible solutions, while facilitator Kynan Robinson assisted a school innovation team with introducing design thinking to the Middle Years Programme.
Elmwood’s Director of Academics and Innovation, Meagan Enticknap, said the data gathered during the initial surveys revealed that the students were hungry for even more experiential learning opportunities than what they were already being given.
“We used design thinking to see what we could layer on to enhance what we were currently doing,” Enticknap said. “It was such a natural fit with our IB concept-based thinking and inquiry-based learning that it took us to another level.”
The school was inspired to create a special design course to allow students more freedom in choosing their own subjects for investigation across transdisciplinary lines. The girls had to use their new design thinking skills to conceptualize how the school day could be re-structured. This type of authentic design challenge with real-world application means “the students see purpose in their learning and this is exciting,” Enticknap said.
The school is also investigating new methods for improving academic achievement through greater student self-awareness and self-motivation — behavioural skills associated with success — and for recognizing achievements more visibly through a system of virtual digital badges.
“Design thinking has had a phenomenal impact in making our classrooms even more engaging than they already were,” Enticknap said. “It has created a different leadership model in the school where everyone has a voice. We got better as an institution at embracing feedback.”
The NoTosh design thinking process is now being introduced to the Primary Years Programme, and will be rolled out to the Senior School in the new year.
“It’s been the most amazing journey,” Head of School Boughton said. “Design thinking has profoundly changed our school. This process has taught all of us that you don’t have to figure everything out by yourself. Engaging other people’s perspectives in the early stages is how you make good ideas great. Now, when someone brings me a problem, my attitude is, ‘Wow, that’s a really good problem for us to solve together.’ ”
Elmwood’s exceptional learning environment will be on display during the school’s fall Open House for families of Pre-kindergarten to Grade 12 students on Saturday, Oct. 21. Visitors are asked to register online at http://info.elmwood.ca/fall. The main office can be reached by telephone at 613-749-6761, and email inquiries can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Elmwood School is located at 261 Buena Vista Rd. in Rockcliffe Park, with parking available at the west end of the school.
Written by Brian McCullough, Postmedia Works