Branksome Hall: Leaders In Action
Leaders in Action is a week-long Integrative Thinking experience in which Branksome Hall brings together their grade 9 students from two continents to work with a real organization, exploring themes across public space and the arts while learning about problem solving.
A collaboration between Branksome Hall and I-Think marked the moment Integrative Thinking moved beyond the realm of business education and into K-12. Starting with an after-school program in 2009, the partnership now creates experiences for students in grades 7 through 10 in both Toronto and South Korea. With an international exchange, seeing all grade 9 Branksome Hall Asia students coming to Toronto for a learning experience, the Branksome Hall team asked the ambitious question, "How might we design an experience for grade 9 students in solving wicked, messy, real-world problems?"
“When we were first given the problem; we automatically came up with a really simple solution. Now, I don't jump to conclusions quite as fast with the process. I used to feel "Oh, I don't need this whole process. I can just find the solution immediately." Now I know I can use the process to help. The Integrated Thinking process taught me a lot about collaboration and communication. So there's more than one way of doing it so it can keep you more innovative in the way you do certain things.”
Since 2013, Branksome Hall has partnered with I-Think to create an experience for grade 9 students focused on developing problem solving and innovation skills. The school dedicates an entire week to teaching and applying Integrative Thinking. Joined by the grade 9 students from Branksome Hall Asia, who visit Toronto from South Korea, all grade 9 students have the opportunity to solve a real problem faced by a real organization.
With the goal of building internal capacity for teaching Integrative Thinking, Branksome Hall brought together a core committee comprised of teachers and staff who led the development of the program. The Integrative Thinking process serves as the problem-solving structure, but the teachers lead in designing the week, working with the organization to shape the challenge and deciding on empathy-building excursions. I-Think plays a supporting role during these programs, supplying expertise in Integrative Thinking and equipping Branksome Hall with the capabilities it needs to run the program by itself.
“For English, we were assigned a rhetorical speech where we have to get into character from a book and present it. Instead of what I would normally do, which is that I think about the easiest character to do, I thought from a different angle about how to engage the audience more. I think it was good because it helped me step out of my comfort zone and it was kind of cool to see it in yourself, without someone telling you that you were doing it or telling you to do something.
Normally I'm a straight forward thinker, like I just kind of memorize stuff – I'm not as creative. And so I think it was cool to, in an English class where you need to be creative see how that project has helped me embrace being creative, instead of trying to shut it down."
In 2015, students consulted to the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA). The TRCA struggled with designating Tommy Thompson Park as a space for public use while maintaining its fragile ecosystem. The TRCA cares deeply about both the community and the natural habitat, but felt a tension: public spaces prioritize people and their use of the park and conservation prioritizes the habitats for plants and animals. Both are important, but one can restrict the other.
Early in the program, students spent time learning more about Tommy Thompson Park through visits and other empathy-building experiences to better understand the challenge. Empathy-building experiences range from interviews with Torontonians using public spaces to artists who can articulate the role of art in building community. With a deeper understanding of the problem, the students then used the Integrative Thinking process to think through the challenge. Teams prototyped their ideas to gain feedback, between teams and from key stakeholders. On the final project day, representatives from the TRCA joined the students to listen to their insights and recommendations.
As students moved through the program, reflecting on their experiences was core to building their own understanding of problem solving and leadership. Reflections helped the students build skills, and understand what and how they are learning. To enhance this critical step, community leaders such as Sevaun Palvetzian the CEO of Civic Action, share their perspectives on public space and leadership.
The program has curriculum connections to both Ontario Ministry of Education and International Baccalaureate requirements. From the Ontario curriculum, the program includes elements such as: Civics, through the exploration of public spaces, the Arts, by having students think about the role of arts in society, and English, with written and oral communication being assessed. From the International Baccalaureate curriculum, the program explores Natural and human landscapes and resources within Orientation in time and space in the Global Context approach to teaching.
Several months after the program, we spoke with students to better understand the lasting impact of the program on their thinking and behaviour. These interviews highlighted themes that connect to Branksome Hall's strategic priorities of academic achievement, well-being and global engagement. Student shared learning along curriculum themes by connecting public space and our civic responsibility to active participation in society. Most rewarding was seeing students apply Integrative Thinking to other classes and to life outside of school.
“I just hope this project can go on and I hope I can do it in grade 10, too, because it's so fun.”