Tag Archive for administration

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!”


Ryan Bretag writes:

What happens when organizations begin to settle for a “business as usual” mindset? What are signs that an organization is heading towards complacency? Has your organization become complacent? Have you?

Ten Potential Indicators of Complacency
Difficult Conversation Are Avoided
Fishing Down the Hallway (Risk Taking and Innovation) is Met With Cautious Tones
The Status Quo is Celebrated
Learning is No Longer a Priority
Management and Day to Day Tasks are the Focus
“Hubris Born of Success”
Areas of Potential Growth are Ignored
The Creative Spirit, Energy, Joy, and Passion No Longer Exist as the Norm
The Hairball Is Celebrated and those Orbiting It Are Dismissed
External Influences are Utilized as Excuses

I like to put it this way: excellent institutions are always working hard to become more excellent.

Does your institution demonstrate these signs? How can you gain sufficient perspective to know whether this dynamic is pervasive within your organization or just present in places?

Independent schools accept students who have previously demonstrated success. It is no surprise that those students continue to succeed within our schools. It is quite natural for independent school faculty and staff to conclude that their teaching or the school program is largely responsible for the success.

We need better measures of the quality of our schools, such as how often struggling students experience later success, the school program has adapted to the needs of students, and students praise course content, not just teacher relationships.