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Sunday, May 15, 2016

Focus on Systems Rather than Individuals

As I think about good schools, I wonder if the statewide attention should shift from teachers to systems. Rather than spending lots of valuable time focused on individual teachers, perhaps it is time to focus on systems instead. This shift could energize and elevate the work we do because focus on systems would support greater efforts related to collaboration, effective process, and leadership.

I still believe that every educator should continually progress towards better and better work. I value many elements of the Massachusetts Educator Evaluation System in this regard, however, many of the reasons that students don't succeed are systematic--they are issues of good process, effective roles, and optimal structure.

If Massachusett's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education moves their focus to system strength, they may find that this is the perfect avenue for adopting and embracing The Every Student Succeeds Act.

A shift to system evaluation and focus could emphasize the following questions:
  • What systematic structures lead to good learning?
  • What avenues of teacher leadership support strong, healthy schools?
  • How is money spent in systems that perform well?
  • How do systems meet the needs of their students? What supports do they need in this regard?
  • What do effective system leaders do? 
  • What professional learning structures lead to strong school systems?
  • What hiring processes and practice create strong systems?
  • How do systems retain teachers and help those teachers develop in positive ways?
  • How do systems maximize technology and communication to help students learn?
  • What systematic processes develop strong learning/teaching teams including students, educators, families, leaders, and citizens?
Yes, teachers are very important to the success of students, however, now it's becoming more and more true that systematic factors affect what teachers can do for students. It's also evident that collaborative structures, roles, and patterns contribute to what we can do much more than the old fashioned one-teacher one-classroom model.

Massachusetts can lead the country by shifting their attention from individual teachers to educational systems instead. As part of that systemwide emphasis will be the element of quality teachers and teaching, but that would only be one part, other parts such as quality leadership, effective structures, proactive roles, and welcoming environments would play a big role too. 

Rather than school-by-school assessments based only on student scores, systems would be compared with a multidimensional assessment that demonstrates how systems are meeting the promise and potential education holds for every young life. This, I believe, should be our state's next focus. And this would be a wonderful avenue to developing a quality, holistic education for every child. The potential for strengthening communities is embedded within this process too.

As we focus on systems, I think it's important that we regard the writing and research related to schools connection to living systems rather than corporate or industrial systems.  Margaret Wheatley's writings about living systems and schools is a good introduction to this.