A Compass to nurture ways people navigate their lives

This Compass is a visual workspace to nurture young people's internal compass for navigating school, work and life.

Photo of Ela Ben-Ur
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There have been wonderful posts here about being lost. And, about the importance of a resilient compass to find one’s own destinations and routes, whatever one navigates. These resonate deeply with my own experiences working with K-12 and college students, as well as with adults in many different organizations. I find that all big challenges – including “Discovering life purpose and creating a vision for the future” as Pam Schoessling beautifully wrote, or getting into college—are ongoing journeys, made of lots of very different little challenges lived every moment.

Here’s what we’ve found deeply orienting.  What do these photographs, each from different places in different elementary schools, have in common with each other?  

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These all offer clues to navigate the unknown—whether it’s a personal situation, design opportunity, or natural phenomenon we’re seeing for the first time. They suggest ways to find new possibilities and perspectives in what we experience, think, and do.

These processes are all around kids on classroom walls. And, kids naturally do many of these things from birth. However, these approaches are not yet inside kids (or us!) as one coherent, powerful compass they can invoke whenever/however they want or need to.  

My own quest at K-12, college, and professional levels is to distill such a compass in collaboration with many incredible educators and partners. We draw on Design Thinking as well as other methods, and human experiences, of personal and professional “innovation.” The “Innovators’ Compass” (named by K-12 educator Kevin Day) that’s developed over four years is here.  Below it is an illustration of how it can embody different processes and patterns. 

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It has formed in the crucible of using and testing it in all we do—with everyone we teach, coach, and parent (and for ourselves!) Here are a few photos of some of the latest compass experiments.

Diverse compasses used by students (top) to address their recess challenges together (left, with experimental prototype) and find an individual project to “Make their mark” (right); and by teachers (bottom) to responsively design their lives (left, with experimental prototype) and classes (right).

We use it to guide conversations about colleges, areas of study, or careers. The observations and principles being explored include students “limiting beliefs” (a BOOM Thinking reference) Pam referred to, and the extrinsic motivations that both Pam and Rachel Wolfe mentioned. We also look for the patterns behind the “highs” and “lows” of their own day-to-day experiences.  These principles help inspire ideas for the future – and simple experiments to try. This in no way replaces the rich, crucial conversations with college counselors Greyson Norcross captures in his contribution. It simply supports counselors in offering a powerful way of inquiry, exploration, and experimentation that students can continue to use (on their own or with others) after they've left the nest. 

We use it to help unstick technical and academic challenges. And, to support personal and interpersonal crises. And so on.

The Compass give names and space to things children naturally do.  In my experience, even pre-K children become familiar with these rhythms of inquiry, and start using them when they meet challenges–quite inspiring to watch!  

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Down the road, seeing a student project team sort out their team dynamics on their own with the compass is pretty darned satisfying!

The compass had to become simple enough to work on a white board, scrap of paper, in conversation, or just in our minds. The necessary design “principles” have proven to be no less than something open, responsive, yet concrete that invites empathy, inclusion, participation, movement, action, exploration, iteration, reflection and growth. Something portable from family living rooms to pre-K classrooms, hi-tech cleanrooms, and organizations’ boardrooms.  Oh, and that can stand alone, or scaffold more detailed processes.  It’s the most difficult, humbling, and motivating work we’ve ever done.

We see that exploring, mapping, and reflecting on one’s own observations, principles, ideas, and experiments as an individual (or, as a group/organization) over time is incredibly empowering. It forms a clearer, self-discovered and self-determined landscape of possibility. It fosters abundance mindset as well as growth mindset. It feels very much like the “adaptation by self-awareness” as an individual and as part of a learning ecosystem that Mark Dyson describes.

I’m very curious how this feels to the contributors of the inspiring thoughts I referenced above, and to you all.  I hope it offers some inspiration in folks’ individual life and work, and possibly in this collective journey of supporting college transitions!

[Optional] Synthesize a little! In one sentence, describe what you learned from your empathy exercises or analogous research. (Ex: Good advisors make a difference.)

Pieces of a powerful personal compass are all around students; when we connect the power of things like Scientific Method and Design Thinking to all they and we do, that compass grows within them.

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Photo of Mark Dyson

I love this approach Ela. Is this something you will work with to develop more in the ideation phase?
Or sharing what you've worked on before, linking it the posts on the community? How will you go from here?
I'm not sure if the posts here are evolutionary or one posts from phase to phase independelty, linking to each other. I'll soon find out :-) 
The compass is the closest I've seen to my own thinking - seeing the wood and the trees and plotting options - great!
I'm inpsired by Kolb who I see you mention, as well as Bloom (another one of references) but also see the need for something that opens the context out from experiential learning with relation to a greater context. Bloom's cycle and axes are a great starting point.
With your focus on future, past and present, you also touch on looking at forming the future which is so important - constructing the desired learning future, but for me, offsetting this with an objective evaluation of context and testing fit to purpose as we do in design. (I'm from a design/architecture/innovation background myself approaching learning from a design angle.)
I also agree entirely on a 'people in the center'  and making this the focus.