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 School Improvement:  School Systems
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Generative Systems

About Systems Thinking
Systems are mental constructs that enable us to describe and 'make sense of ' complex situations. Systems thinking is especially useful when we need to work with entities that are large, complex  diverse and  disparate (in time and place). Schools system are a good example of such entities.
NB. Systems thinking has a potential down side. People have been known to confuse systems with reality. When things are not going so well it can be very tempting try to impose a systems view on the actual reality. This is unrealistic. Reality will always assert itself. It also unfair to others who are closer to the core action of the 'system'.


Structured Systems: layers of activity
A typical school system has several layers

  • Society, the wider community, the profession,
  • The Department, Local Authority, Schools District, The Board, or ....
  • Schools, Colleges, Campuses, ... (and their local communities)
  • Teachers & Classes
  • Learners (and their families)
  • The local & wider community and society

The diagram represents (or implies) a particular view of governance and draws attention to who does what and what might flows from one level to another. Decision making is built around the management of processes, especially core processes

The diagram clarifies core processes (and associated purposes) at each level in the system. Without this clarification there is an awful lot of confusion, disruption, and tampering between levels. I suspect that this is a worldwide phenomenon. 


Aim of a School System
It is the belief of the author that the aim of a school system is to make it as easy as possible for teachers and learners to work well together to achieve the purpose of schooling.

The purpose of schooling is to demonstrate to all learners that they can

  • construct their own knowledge, understanding and skills,
  • with the help of teachers, peers, family, and others, and then
  • use this learning to add value to their own lives and to the family and community,
  • and that it is likely to be well worth the risks and effort involved.

The Staff (in cooperation with students and their families) takes a broad approach to schooling and assumes that there is no one best way to educate all children.
The School values effort, achievement, participation, caring and co-operation in all their aspects : academic, social, cultural, sporting, ....


About resources

Staff, facilities, equipment and operating finances are not the only forms of 'resources'. A huge proportion of the resources available to school systems go un-noticed and un-managed.

Information, eg, curriculum, regulations, agreements, details of strategies and processes that have worked well elsewhere, is a vital resource. 

Other essential resources include good will, cooperation, shared values and purposes, time, support, guidance, encouragement and assistance with problem solving and prevention as well as a whole range of tools to process information for the purposes of planning, managing, assessing, continuous improvement...,


Purposes of the Layers
The ideal purpose of each level in a layered structure is to help ensure the success & well-being of the next level (both now and in the future). This is associated with leadership, empowerment and the development and provision of tools to those in the lower level.

Sadly, in reality, it is more usual the purpose of each level often defaults to one of authority and control over those in the next level. This approach is increasingly self-defeating.

The purpose of local and wider community is ensure the success and well-being of it members (both now and in the future)


Layer Processes
To a greater or less extent each level uses processes to undertake activities and to achieve various purposes.  Each level

  • Selects (personnel, 'customers', resources, approaches, tasks ....)
  • Plans
  • Organizes
  • Makes provision for the next level. This provision should help to the success and well-being of those in the next layer of the system. (Note: only those in the next layer can verify whether the provision does indeed help to ensure the success and well-being at that level.

Each level also

  • Studies
  • Reflects and Learns
  • Refines its own activities
  • Acts to improves its achievements (if permitted and encouraged by the higher levels)
  • Represents itself to each adjacent level
  • Represents each adjacent level to the other adjacent level

Each level also consults and informs both the next and previous levels. Pete Block is correct:

        "Everyone is caught in the middle"

The above identifies

  • a very large number of opportunities for improvement
  • a very large number of opportunities for the application of quality