Processes and Principles for Navigating Uncertainty and Adapting to Change

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The purpose of our project was to reimagine education in a pandemic, and our goal was to make sure whatever solution we developed supported the needs of all of our students and staff, including those who are most vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19 and to the ongoing systemic challenges build into our system of education. This guide serves to share what we did and what we learned along the way.

It was May, a few months into the pandemic, when the Brooklyn LAB leadership team realized it was time to rethink school in order to adapt to the seeming realities of re-entry and resurgence.  With cases rising and no hope on the horizon for controlling COVID-19, the school faced the daunting task of planning to provide education using some combination of remote, hybrid, and  in-person learning. At the same time, it felt impossible to plan anything: In addition to the pandemic, the country faced a looming economic recession, ongoing reckoning with institutional racism, and a deeply polarized political climate. 

There was no way to know how many students and teachers would return to school, when, and what kind of challenges they would be coping with when they did come back. At Brooklyn LAB, about 30% of students, which LAB calls “scholars,” have special education needs, and many struggle with learning due to a variety of social and emotional issues. The school has created a special environment that caters to the most vulnerable students, and the education team wanted to ensure their success, especially during this crisis. But how?

Brooklyn LAB decided the best way forward was an intensive design process that involved the entire school community. To help lead this design process—and create resources to share with other schools—the school engaged Dezudio, a small design consultancy in Pittsburgh. 

In addition to running Dezudio, the principals of the studio, Ashley Deal and Raelynn O’Leary, teach in the Carnegie Mellon School of Design, where their students were grappling with cancelled internships and an uncertain future of work. As it was for everyone during the pandemic, stress levels were high, and life was just harder. This is where we were at when we embarked on the process to reimagine education at Brooklyn LAB in the middle of a pandemic. It may be unusual to share our backstory, but we do this because it highlights one of the key principles of our project: To create solutions that work for all, we need to understand the real-life challenges people are experiencing, including our own as education leaders and designers. This helps us build the empathy we need to find solutions that work. 

Through all of it, we were committed to doing right by our students—to providing them with the educational and emotional supports they deserve every day and especially during this most challenging time.

We hope that by sharing our approach to inclusive design—what we did and what we learned—other education leaders will find inspiration to learn and adapt personally and professionally in a time when we are all being called to navigate uncertainty and adapt to change.