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Real Stories

                From Real Educators

Parts of Whole: Designing Systems that Support Great Schools

If you go into any school in America, you will find myriad programs and initiatives; be they academic, behavioral, administrative, or extracurricular. Proponents of systems-design theory argue that how well these different programs fit together to promote student achievement is the measure of a great school. In other words, in great schools, each part fits together to form a dynamic whole. To divorce curriculum and pedagogy from social-emotional learning, for instance, or transportation from parent and community relations is to isolate key stakeholders from the big picture. And in isolation, systems can only work in service of a narrow focus.

Consider a school with the word “inquiry” in its mission statement. While it is a noble endeavor to adopt inquiry into the instructional framework of a school, we should ask if students’ questions are evident in other parts of the school’s design? If a student poses a question such as “why do we have to do something this way?” and the response is, “because that’s the way it is…” then the answer is apparent. The school lacks alignment between its vision and the systems that are supposed to be designed to support it.

Don’t be mistaken. The pathway to great schools is not in semantic revisions of our mission statements to fit what we are doing. The pathway to success is a collaborative evaluation of how each part of a school contributes to the vision. We have to work in teams and ask ourselves, ”Why do certain systems exist? How did they come to be? What purpose(s) do they serve? Do they serve that purpose? And in what ways are they consistent with our mission statement? If we find ourselves struggling to answer any of these questions, then it is time for us to reconsider our design.

Tim is a natural science teacher who is committed to inquiry teaching, task based assessment, and educational technology integration. As a teacher leader and leadership scholar, Tim is passionate about promoting continuous school improvement through data analysis and systems design. Tim is also a husband, a father, and a competitive martial artist.

Follow Tim on Twitter @cambrianed

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