The Principal's Principles

A Middle School Principal, striving to make the world a better place, one day at a time.

Systems Thinking, Part I

In my transition to my new role as the Principal, I’ve set a goal to sit down and talk with every adult that works in our building before the first student day of the school year. My view is that our school should be a learning organization, and I’ve been thrilled to find out that my early conversations with staff have reassured this belief. In this spirit, I dusted off my copy of The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge. I first read this book while working in graduate school, it was recommended by one of my favorite professors, Dr. Keane. If we are going to develop a culture that is “built to last” (see an earlier post), we must think systemically.

Part I of Senge’s book is three chapters, and makes the following points:

Chapter 1:

– Human beings are innately driven to learn. This motivation begins at birth, as infants develop the ability to walk, speak, and experience life. It is this characteristic, shared by everyone, that can help learning organizations develop.

– Organizations must recognize patterns and see systems. Those working within the system must be committed to their own learning, must clarify what matters, and must aspire to greatness. In addition, recognizing “mental models,” or deeply ingrained assumptions that drive our actions is vital. Organizations must build a shared vision, which will drive team learning.

– Rather than seeing ourselves as individuals within an organization, we must see ourselves as key components of a system.

Chapter 2:

– Some organizations have “learning disabilities.” Among the key characteristics include people seeing themselves as a position, not realizing how their work impacts other departments.

– Too many times, the focus becomes external. By viewing the problems they face as coming from outside, too often organizations do not see their own impact on outside influences.

– Too often, organizations become fixated on isolated events, don’t see gradual changes in an industry, and break themselves into too many departments. Failure to look deeper and see “the system” rather than an isolated issue creates deeper problems.

Chapter 3:

– “Structure influences behavior” – If the roles are the same, the results will also be very similar, regardless of whether or not people are different.

– People fail to make changes because they often fail to see how much control they have in the established system.

– Structures lead to patterns of behavior, patterns of behavior lead to events.

This year, as a leader with a formal role, I’ll be pushing myself to think systemically. Maximizing the human need to learn,  remembering to look deeper and focusing on structures that influence behaviors.

More to come……..

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One thought on “Systems Thinking, Part I

  1. Pingback: Leaders of Learning « The Principal's Principles

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