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Viewing the Big Picture Through Systems Thinking May 15, 2012

Viewing the Big Picture Through Systems Thinking

During week 7, we discussed how steps towards school reform need to be viewed from the perspective of all components of a school system. This is referred to as Systems Thinking.  Our discussions pointed out that there are multiple layers that will be impacted by change within a school system. These layers must be considered during the planning stages of any school reform in order to anticipate possible barriers along the way.

My interest in this issue was piqued so I researched the subject of systems thinking and came upon an informative article by the Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (2000). The article, titled Asking the Right Questions: A Leader’s Guide to Systems Thinking about School Improvement, explored systems thinking in-depth and described three domains within the school system. The technical domain includes the nuts and bolts of instruction such as content, how instruction is delivered, and the assessment of knowledge and skills. Another domain is the personal domain and would include the attitudes and skills of the people within the system. Components of this domain would be professional development, internal communication, school leadership, and the climate and culture of the school. The third domain is the organizational domain. This domain involves the external environment, the stakeholders, resource allocation, technology, and accountability. Breaking a school system down into these 3 components makes for a somewhat simpler process when analyzing the impact of school reform.

It has been extremely helpful for me to view the big picture of school or district wide change through these lenses. I can appreciate the difficult task that everyone in a system must take on – be it a superintendent, a principal, a teacher, or a parent – when a plan for reform in underway. I think that teacher leaders are in a unique position to be close and personal to each of the domains listed above and therefore have much to offer when the “big picture” needs to be brought back into focus.

Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning. (2000). Asking the right questions: A leader’s guide to systems thinking about school improvement. Aurora, CO: Author.

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