Systems Thinking

Photo by zachstern

Today, Debbie Freed taught us about systems thinking, a framework for understanding school conflict and dilemmas through their underlying causes. She urged us to identify: 1) what is the presenting issue; 2) what is the real issue; 3) why now? Issues framed in terms of personalities are nearly always¬† reflective of systems conditions within a school. Is the presenting issue really the issue or just a symptom of a deeper issue? Who did a new staff member replace? Who really makes decisions within the school? How does the school’s history inform current conflicts? How do people’s belief systems inform our understanding of conflicts?

For some reason, I have thought of schools in this way for a long time. My introduction to Catlin Gabel helped deepen this understanding, as I found myself on the wrong side of a staff replacement scenario and learned to understand the place of the technology department within a complex web of decision-making entities.

Debbie encourages us to first understand ourselves and what role we play within the system. Leaders should define reality, in opposition to crisis. Leaders should exercise clarity, articulation, and alignment. People rise to the occasion when they know their purpose, role and are held accountable. Often missing from schools are effective accountability measures (e.g., evaluation and professional development), due to a culture norm of conflict avoidance.

My favorite quote of the day: “some people think that shared decision-making means that you make a decision and then share it!”