Educator profile

Elana Brings Design Thinking into her Classroom

Below is a Group Leader spotlight story recently featured in our brochure on Elana M., a high school English teacher from New Jersey. Learn how she used her experience at an EF Global Leadership Summit to reshape her curriculum back home.

Elana M., an English teacher from New Jersey, wasn’t sure what to expect on her first Global Leadership Summit. She knew the basics: it was an immersive tour plus a two-day leadership conference, and it was meant to tackle a significant global issue. She was also vaguely familiar with design thinking (the multi-step, problem-solving technique taught at every Summit), but she didn’t see how it could work in such a short amount of time. After all, the steps were supposed to culminate in a tangible, solution-oriented prototype to one of the world’s biggest problems. “I thought, that’s just not going to happen,” she laughs. But, by the end of the Summit, she not only had an impressive prototype (an app for environmentally-conscious shoppers), she was also confident in the power of design thinking.

“I swear, I was converted,” she laughs. “I’m a believer. We did the design thinking process, and it worked.” As soon as Elana returned home, she scrapped the remainder of her semester plans and restructured her research writing class to incorporate design thinking.

While the process is usually associated with the corporate world, Elana has seen how effective it can be in the classroom. It focuses on collaboration and creative thinking, and includes steps to identify an issue, empathize with those whom the issue affects, and ideate on potential solutions. In Elana’s classroom, they use it to rethink education.

“They become active participants,” she explains. “Instead of just receiving knowledge, they form their own meanings.” They discover what a good education looks like to them. For many of her students, that means less desk work and more hands- on explorations. They suggest mentorships with community members or field trips that let them learn outside the classroom. “They want to be challenged,” Elana says. “They want real-world experience.”

And of course, Elana knows one of the most powerful ways they can experience the real world is by traveling abroad. That’s why she leads a tour every year and encourages all of her students to attend an EF Summit before graduation. So far, she’s taken students to Rome, Florence, Venice, Paris, and Costa Rica. Up next, she’s headed to Peru, where she’s excited to introduce a new group of students to the Summit experience.

“They come back different people,” she explains. They feel empowered, more confident. By engaging with active learning—both through travel and design thinking—they step outside their comfort zones, shape their own education, and see the true impact they can have on the world.

Want to experience a Global Leadership Summit? Learn about our upcoming Berlin Summit.

Sarah McLaughlin

Sarah is a senior copywriter at EF Education First. When she isn’t writing, you can find her browsing through bookshops, trying to cook, or going to improv class (which is basically just an excuse for adults to play make-believe).

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