Through the Education Lens

How Design Impacted a Rural School System

CJ Westerberg, May 7, 2012 9:11 AM

rural schoolhouse.jpg

"And I really, strongly believe in the power of the small story,
because it is so difficult to do humanitarian work at a global scale.
Because, when you zoom out that far, you lose the ability to view people as humans.
                            - Emily Pilloton

A "small story" with big implications

by C.J. Westerberg

There are many things I like about designer Emily Pilloton's "Teaching Design for a Change" video presentation (below).  Maybe it's the unlikely yet highly compelling story of a sophisticated designer landing in a very poor, very rural and most definitely unsophisticated town where great things start to happen.  

Or, maybe it's "seeing" the critical role schools can play in building a stronger connected community.   This small story narrative paints a possible picture for other budget-conscious, seemingly hopeless school situations.   And, how can one not find hope by watching how this particular school system in Bertie County can become a catalyst for the community to connect learning at home.

A must-view segment is where Pilloton crafts her story about the important intersection between education, design and community at the six minute mark.  Truly a Daniel Pink "symphony" moment.

Pilloton credits the experience and vision of a new school superintendent, Dr. Chip Zullinger - aka Dr. Z -  who arrived in 2007, as instrumental to her move to Bertie County, the poorest in North Carolina, to partner as design consultant  (at the 3:00 mark, where the good news begins).

"We need to be better citizens in our own backyard"
- Emily Pilloton

Other notable moments:  the outdoor "Learning Landscape" (8:00 ) used as a venue to teach math, specifically a physical musical chair approach toward multiplication tables;   Pilloton's version of "Shop Class" a new junior year program (at the 12:00 mark);  having a shared ownership with teachers to create the "conditions" for change, and how design offers a different type of classroom  . . . 

Whether or not you've been tuned in to NBC's recent School Pride program, a series that follows school design make-overs with "Survivor"-like emotional drama and appeal, or a few of the recent school-of-the-future meanderings in the media of late, Pilloton's presentation takes us on a more thoughtful, glocal (think global, act local) ride:

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