With the start of the school year, my social media feeds have been filled with suggestions and ideas for what the first day of school should look like. These posts were followed with helpful suggestions for back-to-school night and other start of the school year programs that are so vitally important to the impressions that would give the parents students and families with whom we interact as educators.

But if you work in private schools, then you probably didn’t realize that your parents first interaction with the upcoming school year was not the carefully crafted welcome on the first day of school. Instead, it was probably a business size envelope containing a very stark an official looking invoice for tuition. If your parents are anything like the parents that I have worked with, this tuition bill created a sense of anxiety and perhaps unease rather than the sense of joy that we want to convey at the beginning of the school year.

I’m certain that dread and anxiety were not the intentions of the business office had in generating these invoices. I’m sure that they were designed to provide the appropriate amount of information on what was owed intuition and other fees and to provide a clear path the payment.

What’s missing in the design of these invoices is an empathetic or human-centered approach. The invoices are sterile and focused on function (i.e. getting the bills paid). What if we put the user’s experience first?

Empathy is at the heart of design thinking. It takes curiosity and marries it with optimism and a willingness to fail forward, fast. Many schools have embraced it and are using it in a variety of ways. So why not turn this tool over to the business office?

John Kolko gives a great explanation of the impact of design thinking is having on the business world. What if, instead, we created these invoices in what Kolko calls a design-centric culture?

Maybe, we could create invoices that would remind parents of why they are paying their tuition bills. Perhaps if we apply the tools of design thinking, we might be able to shift the emotional paradigm created by receiving an invoice and paying a bill. It all starts with thinking about the people.

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