DIRTT - Doing It Right This Time

DIRTT lives its values by turning thought into form.

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A few months ago, I had a chance to visit the headquarters of a business here in Calgary called DIRTT. I didn't really know what DIRTT was all about before I visited - I was tagging along with some colleagues who were interested in getting some student internships set up there. In a warehouse in an industrial district, I was not expecting what greeted me when I pushed open the door. The metal door gave way to a living wall, an open office, and... dogs. Lots of dogs! The reception desk was right beside the open office concept. The atmosphere was decidedly casual, with people sitting on yoga balls at their computers, others huddled together in an impromptu conversation, and a definite buzz of excited chatter. I only had a minute to take this all in before a man came over to us and introduced himself as a DIRTTbag. 

The DIRTTbag took us on a tour of the facility, and back into a manufacturing area. I soon learned what DIRTT does - they have invented this engineering software called ICE that lets them precisely design pre-fab office interiors down to every single screw. The company was founded to solve a problem - the high levels of waste that are an accepted result of a construction site. The precision of the technology, as well as a mandate to use sustainable building materials, let DIRTT be a leader in environmentally-friendly manufacturing.

DIRTT is an acronym. It stands for Doing It Right This Time. A combination of technology, innovation, and a problem that needed solving created fertile ground for something new. After the tour of the manufacturing process, the DIRTTbag took us through the open offices (stopping to pet some of the employees dogs on the way) and into the on-site gourmet cafe for lunch. We talked over lunch about the company. It was clear that though the atmosphere was really informal and the employees clearly had a lot of fun at work, the company had high standards about their product and the service they provided. In other words, certain pieces of the workplace were super tight, while the things that didn't really matter were kept pretty loose. And actually, the things that you'd think wouldn't matter that much - a $2 chef-prepared lunch, dog races in the hallways, a place where EVERYONE dresses up for Halloween or Ugly Holiday Sweater Day - actually matter quite a lot. Because they are the things that make people feel like they are important and significant to the company. And because of this, the people care about the company right back.

What stood out most to me is that DIRTT was really putting thought to form. Often in business (and in education), we talk about our values as an abstract thing. Businesses say they put clients first, or care about the community. But other than a bored "Good morning, what drink can I get started for you?" or sponsoring some kids' soccer team, not much of these spoken values translate into practice. DIRTT really does. The organization, structures, and even choices they make in terms of space SHOW their values of community, customer service, and environmental stewardship. There's a lot to be learned here about education, and especially about character education.

Optional: What are some character strengths you’ve worked on with students in the past? Why did you focus on these?

Curiosity is a big one. I want my students to be curious about everything. I want them to ask questions and be fascinated with the world. I think this is really important because curiosity breeds empathy. If we approach new and different ideas from a place of curiosity, it's very difficult to judge them.

Optional: How comfortable do you feel incorporating character education in your curriculum? (1-10, where 10 = very comfortable!)


Optional: Tell us more! What's one thing you wish there was more of / less of when it comes to character learning in schools?

I think that helping my students to be good people - people who approach one another with caring and empathy - is waaaay more important than them learning the periodic table or memorize who the fathers of Confederation were. I'm reminded by the Cree word meyowashkowowin. It means "to walk in a good way." Too many "canned" character ed programs are far too artificial to help us walk in a good way. That's why design thinking is a great fit - we must know our students to know what might work.


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Photo of shikha tuli

Erin you have opened a whole teaching world for me. Thank you I am so enjoying reading and really excited about taking all this into my classroom. Wow!

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