Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


School of Education


Leadership Studies


Organization & Leadership EdD

First Advisor

Christopher N Thomas

Second Advisor

Patricia Mitchell

Third Advisor

Kevin Oh


The latest reform movement in education, known as 21st-Century Learning, is in

response to the transition from a primarily industrial-based economy to a knowledge- based one. 21st-Century Learning demands that educational organizations become more receptive to societal changes and provide educational services that can make the contributions needed to sustain our economic position in the world.

The purpose of this dissertation study was to understand how design thinking supports the implementation of 21st-Century Learning within a school district. Moreover, this project was designed to capture and understand how the strategic integration of design thinking, in the form of a District Design Team (DDT), promoted innovation within an elementary school district.

An opportunistic, single-case study, this dissertation was focused on the particular phenomenon of innovation within a specific elementary school district (Merriam, 2009). A Conceptual Framework was used to interpret and discuss the findings. Known as artifact analysis, this dynamic model captured the process and the context of the DDT while bringing into focus the attributes of the Design Team's role as a sophisticated artifact within the district (Halverson 2003, 2006; Halverson et. al., 2004).

Findings from this study indicated that the use of the DDT supported the communication of a definition for 21st-Century Learning throughout the district. Affordances like the use of an Implementation Plan, generated from the newly adopted Strategic Plan and a shared vision among district and site level leadership, aided the DDT in their work. Members of the DDT reported that design thinking played an important role in the mindset of the team and approach of the leadership. Further, all members of

the DDT identified benefits around the use of design thinking either as a problem-solving approach used to create opportunities to explore innovations in education or as a classroom application through design learning. The DDT also identified constraints and frustrations with the DDT process and the application of design thinking. This unique opportunity in public education yielded both practical and theoretical insight into the systemic change process of this small suburban school district.