Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


Learning, Leadership and Change

First Advisor

Brett D. Taylor

First Committee Member

Rod P. Githens

Second Committee Member

Fred Estes


Increasingly standardized and assessment-driven educational systems are failing to meet the needs of many students, replacing their love of learning with a fear of failure. Importantly, the fear of failure is a common mindset of not only students but also teachers, administrators, and policymakers. This qualitative, action research study is situated in a design thinking/growth mindset conceptual theory that posits that the design thinking process can serve as a meaningful growth mindset opportunity for teachers and students. The prototyping mindset inherent in design thinking may mitigate the fear of failure by focusing on rapid iteration rather than striving for perfection. The purpose of this action research study was to use the design thinking process to collaborate with a team of eight educators to build a virtual community of practice that supports innovation and inquiry. The research questions that guided the study focused on (1) obstacles to innovation in education, (2) strategies to overcome the obstacles, and (3) any perceived shift in mindset that occurred in participants throughout the study.

Conducted over four months in the winter/spring of 2021, the study used a design thinking/action research methodology that moved through four phases of Question, Imagine, Make, and Share. The findings revealed the primary obstacle to innovation to be an oppressive system characterized by its tradition of white supremacy and its resistance to change. Further obstacles included inadequate teacher training, outdated instructional models, overly standardized instruction and assessment, and a lack of resources. Strategies to overcome the obstacles focused on the protective nature of a community of practice, especially when sharing the goal of empowerment by design and supporting the development of the mindsets of action, growth, and inquiry. Participants perceived mindset shifts in either themselves or their students in the areas of growth, awareness, and empathy.

The study contributes to the literature by exploring the practical applications of growth mindset and design thinking within the context of a supportive community of practice. As action research, it gave participants the tools and courage to become empowered research practitioners.