March 30, 2018 Blog, Fund Program

Q&A with Principal Naomi Nakayama

See below for a feature about Naomi Nakayama, one of the outstanding principals who participated in both the Chicago Principals Fellowship and Summer Design Program. The 2018-19 Fellowship application is now open. Click here to see if you are eligible, and apply by April 6th. 

Since becoming principal of Lyman A Budlong Elementary School in 2013, Naomi Nakayama has participated in a number of programs to grow her leadership. “On top of being able to collaborate with so many amazing educators, I especially love learning new problem-solving methods,” Naomi said. “Design thinking revolutionized the way I approach challenges at Budlong.” We caught up with Naomi to learn more about the design-thinking strategy and how it has helped her grow as a leader.

The Fund: Can you tell us more about design thinking and how it has impacted your leadership?

Naomi Nakayama: Design thinking is a problem-solving strategy that is action-driven and solution-focused. It teaches you to reframe problems and collaborate with peers to make lasting and sustainable change.

When I participated in the Summer Design Program (SDP) in 2014, I learned to think about what problems I wanted to attack, in what order and why. Then my teachers and I learned to collaborate in a very focused and deliberate way. During this collaboration, we had to really understand the challenges we were working on; that is what I love about design thinking – you have to think about root cause.

It also gave me a good platform to invite teachers in and develop close working relationships. I learned that trust was essential for good collaboration, and in my first year, developing this allowed me to work through layered and nuanced challenges further down the road.

The Fund: When you participated in SDP, you mentioned that you were able to apply design thinking to a specific challenge. Can you tell us about how design thinking helped you transform the fifth grade science curriculum?

NN: When I applied for the 2014-15 cohort of SDP, I knew that I wanted to tackle the challenge of low science scores for my fifth grade students. My teachers and I noticed that fourth graders who had average science scores but loved science saw a decrease in performance and motivation by the time fifth grade came around. We were using the same style of curriculum for both years, and knew that this decrease must be caused by something other than the content.

My teachers and I couldn’t get a good read on what was the root cause, but through SDP and design thinking, we figured out that it was a relationship between reading comprehension and the fifth grade science reading material. In fifth grade, students transition to reading more information- dense material for science class but did not have the reading comprehension skills to support that additional step. Once we reframed the problem around reading comprehension, we were able to provide those additional supports, and students saw increased performance.

The Fund: You were just accepted into the 2017 cohort of the Chicago Principals Fellowship. Can you tell us about what you’re excited to learn?

NN: I applied for The Chicago Principals Fellowship because I wanted that collaborative learning environment again. I really like working with The Fund, and I’m super excited to take classes at Northwestern. I need that stimulation again to help me implement this differentiated learning program.

Now going into my sixth year, I feel like I have so much knowledge about my building and curriculum. I’m very excited for the new ideas that will come along with being part of the fellowship. I’m looking forward to figuring out what areas I need to grow in and get more support or training in. I need cohorts like the Educator Advisory Committee (EAC) and SDP to help me think about this stuff.