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SHS teachers gain unique training at Accenture

It’s the start of a new school year, and students and teachers alike are brushing up on their skills. In Livonia, Stevenson High School (SHS) teachers were treated to a professional development day that focused on identifying challenges and  finding solutions while enhancing the culture and climate within their classrooms and  school.

This unique opportunity was made possible by Accenture, a global consulting and technology company, with offices in downtown Detroit, Troy, Ann Arbor and Livonia. Accenture provided a complimentary day-long session at its Industry X.0 Innovation Center, part of its Detroit Innovation Hub, for several SHS teachers. The Industry X.0 Innovation Center, which opened in June 2018, serves as a space for the company to work with clients on developing technology with a focus on industrial and automotive needs.

Teachers not only identified the big and small challenges that exist in the everyday lives of teachers and students in the classroom, but they also learned how to unpack those challenges and work through a process of collaborative problem solving.

Design Thinking

Accenture conducted a Design Thinking workshop, similar  to what they provide  for corporate clients, but with different content. The phrase “thinking outside of the box” comes to mind when describing the methods and activities that enabled and engaged teachers to come up with new and innovative ideas to solve their objectives.

The guiding principle behind Design Thinking  puts users and their needs at the center of business, in this case, the SHS teachers came in with the objectives of wanting to create a culture where administrators, faculty and students are engaged in  building an environment where students are motivated and take accountability for their academics.  Accenture created an agenda with those objectives in mind which set the stage for the workshop.

“This process showed me that some of my concerns are shared by others,” said Paula Nowell, who teaches AP Calculus at Stevenson. Improving communication, better utilizing resources and building community between teachers and administrators are a few topics that were covered by the SHS staff with a group of Accenture facilitators. “I am hopeful that some of the ideas we talked about will come to fruition.”

The work coincides with Livonia Public Schools’ focus on improving the climate and culture in its 23 schools, through its Community with Character initiative.

Community with Character

Community with Character focuses on respectful interactions – student-to-student; student-to-adult; adult-to-student; and adult-to-adult, which includes being kind, genuine, thoughtful, empathetic, supportive, genuine, reflective, positive and professional.

The  day with Accenture followed a district-wide professional development session with nationally renowned speaker and educator Jimmy Casas, author of a book entitled, “Culturize.” He delivered an inspiring presentation to more than 1,200 LPS staff members.

“This training with Accenture was an extension of a lot of what Jimmy Casas provided to the whole district,” said SHS Principal Gary Harper. “We thank Accenture for providing us with this training, free of charge. We are not their typical client and it was very enlightening to go through that process. We can get to work right away on some of the solutions.”

Harper said the main themes of the day included improving the climate and culture; improving communication between teachers and parents; finding more time in the day for teachers to focus on those climate and culture aspects in the classroom; and improving their physical spaces such as the teacher’s lounge, to make a comfortable atmosphere for staff.

When it came to seeing how the workshop compared to corporate clients, Lori Mayer, Associate Director from Accenture and executive sponsor of the event, was blown away by the amount of Post-it note ideas that filled the whiteboard by the end of the day. “It was a refreshing pivot to leverage the Design Thinking methods we usually use to help our clients solve complex business problems to helping educators from LPS improve the way they serve their students and interact within the building,” said Mayer. “They were a joyful group and the support amongst them was evident as they worked to improve the learning experience for their students.”

“This was a worthwhile experience that we can take back and use right away,” said Katherine Mikkelsen, who teaches ninth grade English Language Arts at Stevenson. “There are many small things that could make big changes.”

Teacher Jennifer Abler, who coordinated this special day of professional development with her colleagues Paula Nowell and Sherri Smith, said she enjoyed examining the challenges as a group and discovering the opportunities, while focusing on the things that they, as a staff, can control.

“We talk a lot about Community with Character, but this was putting it into action,” said Smith. “It was very engaging, the whole time.”

Rebecca Caldwell, who is a math and science coordinator for grades 7-12, agreed.

“We hope that we can take the feeling of being engaged and give our students the same opportunity – that same type of collaborative environment,” she said.

“Accenture is proud to be part of the fabric of the Livonia community,” said Dan Garrison, managing director who oversees Accenture’s business in Detroit. “Helping educational institutions take a fresh look at their approach is part of our company’s DNA. This was an incredible opportunity to give back to our community through its educators who are helping shape the workforce of tomorrow.”