The policy for suspending students in San Francisco public schools is going to change. On Tuesday, the city Board of Education voted unanimously to pass a measure that will reduce the number of suspensions for a broad category of misbehavior known as "willful defiance." The policy calls for the district to implement a system of restorative practices, positive behavior intervention and support for teachers over a three-year span. The passage of the measure made headlines in the Bay Area, and the measure's sponsor, school board member and d.school fellow Matt Haney, has been through a series of interviews before and since its passage.
Yesterday, Matt chatted about how design thinking impacted the development of the new policy, which "heated up" around the time he began his fellowship in September. The first was by thinking about "what we could do and all of the creative ways that we might get there," Matt said, "and not accepting the way that things are and leading in that way."
The second way was by "really trying to have empathy for [everyone] in the process and trying to give space for that and building that throughout by having people talk to each other."
Matt went on to say that the measure's language was changed based on an experience shortly after his introduction to design thinking. He found himself engaged in a particularly passionate conversation with a deputy superintendent who, Matt says, was so upset by the bill initially that he couldn't finish reading it.
"In that moment, this was a couple of months into my time [at the d.school], I was able to think, 'Okay, I'm going to really just step back and let him talk, and hear him out and try to understand his perspective,'" Matt said. "After that, I went back and changed a lot of the language that really reflected, I think, a deeper understanding of what folks needed and what their issues were and what their challenges were."
Over the course of his fellowship, Matt has gone to a number of schools to speak with students to ascertain their needs. That work, he says, helped him to see each student as an end user that he and his fellow board members are "designing for in this system, and what their needs are and what their experiences are."
Design also helped Matt understand how he wanted to approach what he calls a "behavioral intervention matrix" for the school district. He now realizes that changes in school discipline will manifest in unique ways for each school and for each individual student. This is a change in mindset, Matt said, from his pre-d.school days, when he would have attempted to develop one-size-fits-all solutions.
"The system we're trying to create comes out of empathy," Matt said. "A student who is misbehaving in class or in school has a lot going on with them that we don't understand. And the only way we can address it is by actually trying to understand it."