A Critical Consideration of Project Work

As always, I’m so excited to say we have published yet another issue of Trailblazers!!!! But if I’m being honest, Issue 7 was the probably the most challenging production process yet and I’m mainly writing this post because I just really needed to reflect on it.

I’m a big supporter of transparency, so with that in mind, I’d like to point out that the Trailblazers team actually started this semester intending to take a short hiatus from publishing and spend that time re-examining our business structure in order to be a more sustainable organization in the long run. Having published our magazine for three years, we felt it was time to revisit our organizational foundation, direction, and strategy. With most of our high school team graduating, my co-founder transferring universities, and me being half way around the world, this felt like the right time to take a step back in order to remember why we started this magazine and figure out how we could do our work more efficiently.

I had just finished writing a whole article about this decision, defining “organizational foundation, direction, and strategy,” outlining the questions we would be analyzing, and describing our next steps. (Part of me almost wants to publish it despite it’s out datedness because I was kind of proud of how it turned out “business writing” wise.) My co-founder and I had agreed we would wait until after the high schoolers were back from their school trips and spring break to tell them our decision. Coincidentally though, one of the seniors reached out about needing to take a step back and the other (my sister) had already said as much, so we went ahead and spoke with them during the break and decided we’d make the news public when everyone got back.

And then, by the end of break COVID19 hit… so we didn’t “get back.”

This pandemic has affected every aspects of life, but one of the greatest impacts has been schools moving to distance learning. This rapidly changed the essence of “school” and brought into question foundational principles many have taken for granted like the very idea that school requires coming into a communal building and sitting at a desk and the role of parents in education.

The Trailblazer’s team knew we already weren’t in the best position to publish an issue this semester, and we knew the pandemic would bring it’s own challenges, but we also knew this was a time vitally important for young learner’s voices to be heard and we wanted to do our part to amplify a few of those voices.

So we got started late – not until almost the begining of May – and with no writers in the works and basically a team of only two (myself and my co-founder, though my sister did some feedback work and connected us to one of the young learners so we acknowledged her help as well in this issue), yet somehow, we pulled it off. We might’ve been behind on our intended schedule, and there are things we would’ve liked to have done slightly differently, but honestly I’m just proud that we made it happen and before the end of summer.

I’m grateful to all the learners we worked with that contributed their time while juggling so many other changing parts of life. I’m thankful for my partner in crime who worked with me while we were both taking full course loads this entire summer (also a Trailblazers first) and hosting virtual design thinking workshops, plus she got sick for a week and had her computer break down and still made things happen. And I’m hopeful that these stories give more insight into how young learners can tackle big challenges with resilience and grace.

I honestly don’t know what the future has in store for Trailblazers. After I graduated, the intent was for the founders to slowly become less involved in the process and just serve as mentors; however, we have struggled to make this a reality. I don’t think we will be able to do another publication with just our team of two and as a business student, I frequently question if our work is creating a great enough impact to counter the time and stress costs to keep this organization running- thus, how the original conversation of taking a hiatus to revisit our purpose and goals came about. We considered finding a teacher to partner with that wanted to make Trailblazers a part of their classwork, this way we could keep the magazine alive but also have a more consistent source of new production team members, but that plan kind of fell through. And since publishing Issue 7 we’ve not yet revisited these big questions.

Personally I don’t want Trailblazers to die, but I also know things can’t go on the way they’ve been operating, and I’m also aware that sometimes projects need to come to an end for a new one to start and I’ve never been good at making that call, so I’m at a cross roads. I wonder if my desire to keep Trailblazers alive is selfishly motivated and if maybe my efforts could better be spent elsewhere. But I also would like to believe there are at least some readers out there who appreciate our work and that the Trailblazers production team and spotlight learners have made a positive contribution to the conversations around the role young learners should play in the movement to transform education. The questions remain, if we stopped publishing would anyone care, would there be a loss of value, and even if so does that really imply we should continue, or have we made our point and is it time to say “good job, what’s next?”

I guess that’s all I can say about Trailblazers future for now until further conversations with the team. This was a crazy production process that involved a heavy and quick work load on top of a lot of other external and internal obstacles, but I’m glad we decided to move forward with the creation of Issue 7 and am open minded about whatever comes next on this journey.

 

Trying to Be Better

” …we don’t match, but we don’t need to match to be a family and love each other” – Lauren Jordan

People are speaking up. Black lives matter. Human rights matter. Injustice can not be tolerated.

I haven’t blogged or otherwise posted on social media recently not because I’m trying to ignore the events currently happening in the US, but simply because I haven’t known what to say. I respect, appreciate, and support everyone calling for change, but at the same time in some ways it’s felt better to just take the time to listen rather than try and say something and accidentally say the wrong thing by mistake.

Even with the “#BlackOutTuesday” campaign where theoretically you would think, “You don’t have to come up with anything to say, just post; it’s so simple to show support.” But again at the same time I read a lot of posts talking about negative side effects of this trend for how it was unintentionally blocking the distribution of a lot of resources, so even that seemed controversial. I also fear for many it was a hollow post and I didn’t want to post out of fear it would be a hollow post myself and also for not being convinced any message I share will reach anyone new.

As one of my friends put it: “I think what’s so frustrating to me as a white person it that I’m sharing information and resources and expressing my own support for BLM but I’m screaming into an echo chamber. I have no followers or friends who don’t support BLM (that I know of) so who am I helping by sharing? I want to help, but don’t know the best way to do it.”

So instead of posting, I spent the past day trying to better educate myself. My work on this journey is not comprehensive nor is it complete, but it’s a start, and it’s an action. To me actions often speak louder than words, so I don’t have any reflection or takeaways to share – I’m still processing and some of that requires internal thinking-  but I wanted to say that I know where I stand and want to do something about it, so here’s what I’ve done thus far as I try to personally be better so we can make a better future together:

Watched “13th” on Netflix

Read and signed 10 petitions.

Read the following articles:

END THE WAR ON BLACK PEOPLE

First, Listen. Then, Learn: Anti-Racism Resources For White People

“MOM, WHY DID GOD CREATE MATCHING?” A mom’s conversation with her adopted 6 year old about racially mixed families.

100 RACE-CONSCIOUS THINGS YOU CAN SAY TO YOUR CHILD TO ADVANCE RACIAL JUSTICE FOR OUR WHITE FRIENDS DESIRING TO BE ALLIES

FOR OUR WHITE FRIENDS DESIRING TO BE ALLIES

Responding to Racism Anti-racism tips from the NZ Human Rights Commission.

Discourse and Debate: Is performative activism inherently bad?

This Is What Black Burnout Feels Like

Pilot Success: Virtual DT Workshop

Today was a big day! We hosted our first-ever virtual design thinking workshop with Wish for WASH, and it was great!!!

It was by no means a perfect event – I have lots of notes for improvements… – but as a pilot workshop, I was super satisfied with the outcome of this 3-hour design sprint around supporting the homeless during COVID-19. We had a low turn out despite a solid registration which caused the need for a lot of on the fly pivots to our flow for the day, but we got through it and the feedback we got was enormously helpful!

Overall, our participants really enjoyed the workshop and were also very supportive and impressed with our quick pivoting and ability to adapt to be both participants and facilitators in an attempt to make for fuller teams. They even said that they would’ve been willing to do a whole day hackathon with us/would love to in the future. This really surprised me because we thought a 3-hour online event might potentially feel too long to participants. We also got good feedback around how to better word our pre-workshop email around what to expect/prepare with, and as expected everyone wished there would’ve been a bit more time for more elaborate brainstorming/prototyping/pitching – which was somewhat expected after we had a bit of a late start and a slow warm-up with getting people to participate, so we knew the whole time that we were running behind, but also good to know in the future we should better anticipate this potentially slow start. 

The biggest changes I’d like to consider for the future (in case anyone else is interested in leading a virtual workshop and wants insight into what I learned):

  1. Try to get higher levels of registration in anticipation of some no shows / more intense and maybe more targeted marketing. Potentially even create the date/time of the workshop after gauging interest and feedback on times that would work well for those interested.
  2. Re-structure our planned amount of time per activity to account for a slower start as everyone tries to get to know each other without the little side conversations that would normally take place in person. (This way we have the full time for a good experiment and produce phase.)
  3. Have one person designated for watching the time and updating the facilitators about where we are in the flow relative to where we planned on being. I found it really hard to pay attention to timing (didn’t help that I also had to convert the time zone) while also leading the facilitation because I could only have so many things going on in my head at once. Furthermore, since I had to also be a participant (which was not originally the plan) I didn’t have downtime while teams were working to be able to think through the big picture stuff like we had planned on, but should not have counted on. While I knew from the beginning we were behind schedule, I think we could’ve better made up time earlier in the workshop/ better allocated time to activities throughout the entire flow if I had been more aware of just how far off we were.

(Also on a personal note, I think I might’ve done too much of the facilitating/coaching and wish I would’ve done better at finding ways for other W4W members to play a greater role in the leadership side of the workshop. The original plan was for me to co-facilitate, and therefore, lead 3 parts of our flow, and I was not supposed to be a participant at all – just float between breakout rooms supporting as needed – but then one person on our team last minute couldn’t make it and a coach was feeling concerned about leading a team on her own, so I was going to assist her but wanted her to take lead. Then with all of the last-minute changes that happened once we started and realized we had less than half of the people signed up, I ended up doing almost all of the facilitation in the full room with the way things got cut, and I ended up leading in the small team despite what I originally wanted… So I need to do better there.)

The most valuable part of the day though was just knowing that this kind of event is possible. We successfully ran a 3 hour full DT workshop online! THINK OF THE IMPLICATIONS?!?!?!?

  1. The success of this workshop means the potential for future opportunities has increased exponentially! We can have digital workshops with people from all over the world; that’s pretty spectacular to think about the ability to expand the scope of people aware of design thinking and WASH-related issues.
  2. Building off of implication 1, with successful online integration, imagine the diversity of people that can be brought together for future collaborations?!?!? The success of today’s workshop was greatly supported by our ability to get professionals in the WASH sector as well as experienced design thinkers together in a “room” with a bunch of college students with open minds and crazy ideas. Even when we can meet in person again, I think in some ways online workshops might still be a great way to facilitate DT challenges, because it makes it a lot easier to bring together people with so many different knowledge points. It also makes me wonder if when we get back to school in person if this experience with online learning will make people more open to things like virtual guest speakers. The mix between experts and students is truly amazing to be a part of and I think if we capitalize on this experience with online education it could lead to some great collaborations with schools in the future.
  3. To me this proves any class online can still be interactive. The idea that an online class needs to just be lecture-based or for quick check-ins and – the idea that drives me craziest –  that teamwork can’t happen online is a myth! It’s all about intentional design. We used the tool “Annotate” on Zoom to allow participates to write directly on our slide deck as if they had a printed version of the activities in front of them. We also encouraged a “use whatcha have” norm – so even though we might not all have access to the most high-quality prototyping tools, we enforced the idea that anything can be prototyping material if you are creative enough. So even though we were all in our own homes, we were all able to build physical prototypes and share them with each other. Furthermore, we used a combo of full room sessions and breakout rooms (to stimulate table teams) to allow for streamlined facilitation in addition to small group discussions. With this feature, we were also very intentional in our flow by limiting the number of times we had to switch back and forth between rooms. We found in our testing/experience with Zoom classes, that when you constantly go into breakout rooms for short periods of time it becomes too disruptive and time-consuming, so instead we made our flow work so there would be longer chunks all together and longer chunks in small groups this way both types of conversations felt meaningful. We even made a “cue-to-cue” document like you would in theater, which a document just outlining all of the times we have to change a technical component of the “performance” so that we could practice all of the tech changes and see if anything felt weird being too close together in timing.

 

Some final takeaways: 

I loved how inspired and happy everyone was after the workshop. One participant commented that she spends all day at work focusing on the issues caused by COVID-19 and she really appreciated having the ability today to note real human struggles and then brainstorm ideas rather than focus on all of the negatives.

I appreciated hearing our participants talk about wanting other co-workers of theirs to participate in future workshops with us, and they also wanted to work with us again.

And finally, I was really proud of our team’s work both leading up to and during the event. This couldn’t have happened without the hard work of lots of individuals each doing their part and be willing to totally change plans on the fly as necessary.

It was a great pilot! We learned lots and have great potential for the future!

(Just a few of our prototypes by our awesome facilitators and MoVe talk speakers! I wish I had more pics but haven’t been sent them yet/we want to make sure our participants approve of the pics before we post, so for now it’s just us.)

Screen Shot 2020-06-01 at 8.50.07 PM

If you’re interested this was our slide deck (without the MoVe talk slides because we found it easier for the presenters to have their own deck for screen share maneuver purposes). We used the DEEP process with tools designed primarily by MV Ventures (formerly known as MVIFI).

Oh the Place’s You’ll Go

My rabbit hole moment of the day was when I found myself reading through lots of Dr. Seuss quotes. I went out into the “real world” today, and though I’ve already been to the university since moving out of lockdown, the school building is just up the mountain literally through the woods so I hadn’t seen stores and busy streets again until today. I realized I had actually gotten used to all the quiet streets with closed stores so today it seemed so weird to see so much life happening. When I got back I found myself thinking about this experience and an earlier conversation I had with a friend where she was saying she was excited I’ll get to go exploring again, and somehow that made me think of “Oh the Place’s You’ll Go” by Dr. Seuss, and thus, here I am now with just a bunch of Dr. Seuss quotes to share that resonated with me in light of the pandemic.

Ghost School

Now that New Zealand has gone down to a level 2 alert level, the university has begun to reopen certain on campus facilities. This was very lucky for me since I got an assignment this week that would be much more challenging to complete without the textbook, and I had been using the textbook from the library when needed to complete my work for this class thus far. So for the first time in 7 or 8 or some large amount of weeks (I kind of lost track at this point…) I returned to campus.

It was so strange.

The whole place felt like a ghost town or something out of a dystopian novel. You’re required to use your student ID to buzz into the building, then to get into the library there are the taped Xs to mark the line to also buzz into that space as well. Papers are hung everywhere reminding people to stay one meter/one chair a part at a minimum at all times. Purel and sanitary whipes are at every buzz in station for going in and out of rooms along with a staff member monitoring. Not to mention everyone just has this somber look to them as they’re spread out so formulaically around campus. Plus I’m pretty sure the lights were dimmed to help save energy/costs since not that many people are using the facilities at this point and there is still some natural light at all hours since the building now closes at 5 (vs midnight, might have even been later, but definitely at least midnight during the school week) .

I totally understand and agree with why these measures are being implemented, but it’s still one thing to read about new procedures in an email and then a totally different thing to experience the changes to our normal routine. In some ways complete lockdown actually felt less weird because that was a total change in everything for extreme circumstances, but now to have so many little changes feels much more odd. Not good or bad because rationally it all makes sense, but just odd because it brings attention to little tasks that would typically go unnoticed – like the process to enter a new room when you’re already in the building.

I will say the change of scenery from my bedroom was quite effective though. Considering I was only at the library for two hours today I got way more done then I expected to, and definitely more than I would have done if I stayed in my apartment. And this was even with the gloomy atmosphere, so I definitely plan to go back, but I can tell it’s going to take me some time still to get to the point where I’m actually there every day again.

Going out today reminded me that while things might be starting to look up again, we are still far from “normal” and things will never truly be the same again which is very ponderous to consider.

Kylie’s Graduating?!?!

It’s honestly so hard for me to fathom that my sister, Kylie, is done with high school and heading off to college at the University of Pennsylvania so soon!!! Sometimes it feels like only yesterday that I graduated. Especially on days like today where soon after I wake up I find myself talking for an hour with friends from high school.

I feel so sorry for Kylie and all the graduating seniors this year that have to miss out on so many special moments associated with ending k-12. It’s hard to imagine high school without those last moments, but I know they have created their own very memorable moments during this time. I’ve loved seeing online all the carpool parades, surprise house visits thanking college counselors, and the artwork done by lower schoolers in celebration of the seniors and their college choices. It shows how strong and powerful a true community is when distance isn’t a barrier for sharing moments together. And that community lasts long after graduation day.

So to Kylie and all the other graduates of the class of 2020, congrats!!! You’ve worked hard and faced some crazy odds these past few months, and now it’s time to celebrate just how far you’ve come and how exciting your journey will be next!

Global Leadership

The other night I wrote a pre-flection for a seminar on global leadership, so, now that I’ve attended the seminar, I thought I should write my reflection.

Upon the start of the seminar, it was clear to me that our pre-flection assignment was intentionally focused on leadership as a whole so that the point could be made during the seminar about what makes “global leadership” distinguished from other forms of leadership. However, personally I found myself leaving the event thinking “Is there actually a difference between ‘global leadership’ and just ‘leadership’?”

We discussed the significance of global leaders needing to have cultural intelligence – the understanding that different cultures have different values, norms, beliefs, and often priorities, and the ability to adapt and respond to these differences in an appropriate manner. And apart from the nature of interacting with people from different cultures, we said some other key challenges to global leadership include communication barriers (which is somewhat included with cultural differences but emphasised since not everyone from a different culture also has a different primary language), the potential for false assumptions and their implications, and in many cases global leadership also includes a global team and then there can be additional difficulties with managing travel, timezones, and high amounts of virtual communication.

While I can see how these challenges may play a larger role in a global context, the reason I left the seminar feeling like there isn’t a difference is because I believe a lot of these challenges can also be found with domestic leadership, and cultural intelligence is important for everyone in my mind. It’s very possible to live next door to someone that identifies with a totally different culture from you, but if you work on a team with them I wouldn’t consider that a “global team”, yet the need for cultural intelligence and the challenges presented above would still apply. Furthermore, the skills/actions/behaviors we discussed to combat these challenges are also very important to domestic leadership: don’t be afraid to ask questions, approach decisions diplomatically, know your teammates, acknowledge leadership in others, be a life-long learner willing to unlearn, relearn, and learn new things every day.

It feels cliche to say, but the world is a lot more globalized then it use to be, and perhaps in this globalized world we can no longer distinguish between “global leadership” and just “leadership” anymore. Even when thinking about the degree of awareness needed in regards to global events, often times trends in one country affect another soon after, so even if your work isn’t directly related to global events, it’s important to be aware of what’s happening globally.

So perhaps needless to say, but I wasn’t blown away or particularly inspired by this seminar. I think I expected my thoughts to be a bit more challenged or reframed, but instead everyone in the seminar just kind of agreed with each other about everything discussed. I am also currently taking an entire class on international business, so maybe these kinds of conversations have just become somewhat of a daily habit and thus I’ve decensatized myself from the novelty of the conversation. It was interesting for me though to consider how perhaps the term “global leadership” has lost some meaning as everything becomes naturally more globally minded, so I’m glad I had that to take away.

Empathy Seeking

Online learning has been a wild ride… Personally, I’ve had moments where I’ve been frustrated, bored, and even, occasionally, pleasantly surprised by elements that come with school online. Because of this, I’ve partnered with OpenIDEO as a community coach on their current design challenge around reimagining learning during COVID-19. If you have any ideas (tested or half-baked), are looking for new ideas, or just want to express some problem points around our current learning situation I’d encourage taking a look at/contributing to the OpenIDEO site.
I’m trying to do a little of my own empathy seeking because I noticed an (unsurprising) lack of student voices shared on the platform, and yet student stories are some of the most insightful voices we need right now. So I’ve come up with these three quick questions that I’d love people (young learners especially, though I also welcome teachers, parents, parents on behalf of kids, etc) to respond to in the comment section. I’m hoping to take away some trends to be able to share with the rest of the OpenIDEO community to make sure we’re actually ideating for user needs:
  1. What’s your biggest frustration/what’s driving you crazy about online learning? 

  2. What’s your favorite part?

  3. It would be better if…

Furthermore, if you are a student and interested in joining a virtual collaborative discussion/brainstorm session to dive deeper into this topic, I’m hosting a student gathering this Sunday night, May 17th from 7-8pm EST. Use this form to sign up so I can send out the Zoom link.

Moving Forward

After 7.5 weeks of lockdown, in 3 hours New Zealand will officially move down to alert level 2!!! That mean restaurants, university spaces, museums, beaches, etc will all start reopening!

Classes are still online for the rest of the semester, we are still limited to not being in groups larger than 10, and we still will have requirements with tracking where we’ve been/who we’re in contact with, but this is so exciting!!!

Honestly, I’m having a hard time believing things are actually going to start returning to “normal.” It’s especially hard to imagine while I also keep hearing news about the US and the conversations around the likelihood that schools there will still remain online in the fall. Everyone I talk to keeps saying they’re so sorry for my situation and how they know this wasn’t the semester abroad I planned/hoped for, but to be honest, I’m grateful that I was abroad this semester of all semesters. I’m in one of the safest places on the planet right now and I have a chance to actually go back to school/life not online next semester. I wouldn’t trade a more “normal” semester here for being in the US right now…

The hardest part is that it’s definitely been lonely having been pretty much entirely isolated for 7.5 weeks. Technology is amazing and I can’t imagine having lived through this 10 years ago, but video chats can’t replace face-to-face interactions. And what really stinks is that even though starting tomorrow I can see people again, there really isn’t anyone for me to go celebrate with here. Most of my friends during those first few weeks were also international students, but they decided to return home. And my roommate is staying with her family rather than returning to the dorms since school is still online, so now it’s like I’m back to square one being the new kid trying to meet people but during a time where we’re still pretty restricted on actually being around people… It’ll be challenging for sure, and I’m feeling more than a bit uncomfy about the idea of readjusting yet again to a new normal (moved across the world, got switched to different housing and different roommate, had a week of site seeing, three weeks of classes, 4 weeks total lockdown, 3 weeks online classes and lockdown, now online classes with restrictions, and who knows what’s next… it’s been a year of lot’s of adjusting and I’m not exactly the best with constant change as I like patterns…) but overall I’m just feeling so grateful with the way things played out here.

It’s not over yet, but we’re moving in a good direction away from this pandemic.

The Next Moment

Today was my little brother’s 14th birthday. It’s insane to think that he starts high school next year! I’m starting to actually be able to have adult level conversations with him and that’s a very odd thing, especially since he’s the “baby” of the family. (And I mean my entire extended family as well.)

Sometimes I feel like him getting older is what makes me most realize how old I am. Being a junior in college is a crazy time because, with potentially only one year left of school, it’s when you have to start thinking about what you want to do next and where you want to go for that matter. It seems like there are a lot more options at this point in life than there really ever has been before. There are also so many questions to ponder, like whether to go to grad school or look for a job, and then, of course, there is the question of what grad school or what job, and where in the country or even world might that school or job be, and how long in advance do you need to start prepping your application.

I wrote the other night about the struggle of having too many choices, and the idea of thinking about what comes next in life is definitely one of those paralyzing choices. People say to try and “live in the moment,” and not worry so much about the future, but when you think about it, nowadays if we aren’t constantly planning a year and a half ahead then it seems that it can easily become too late for some opportunities.

As early as middle school we’re taught to start thinking about the future. One of the first big choices I remember is choosing what language to study, and if you choose the “wrong” language class in middle school and want to switch your choice in high school then you have to start the new language a year behind. Middle school was also the first time we could skip a level of math, but if you weren’t selected to move ahead based on your 6th grade performance then it was significantly harder to ever reach AP Calculus BC if that was something you later were interested in doing. In high school, we start choosing some of our classes, and in 9th grade, we are told to think about our entire 4 years in order to make sure we’re able to schedule the classes we want. Then junior year is when the college process hits full swing with SATs and research so that by the summer you can start touring in order to then apply the following fall. Then in college, if you want to do an internship or study abroad, especially if you want to do more than one experience, you really have to come into school already thinking about what semester you will do these experiences otherwise you could end up in a situation where you want to study abroad but none of the classes you have left to take are offered overseas.

So you see, it’s really hard to think about “living in the moment” when the past 10 years have always been focused on thinking about the next moment. At this point, I imagine that there will always be a little voice in my head asking “what’s next?” Granted, this voice often pushes me into some truly amazing opportunities, so I’m not convinced I would actually want it to disappear, though it can also be a cause of anxiety when knowing the potential options are so vast.