WordThing1: system

Early results from tracking trash out of Seattle

Trashy System: movement of garbage from Seattle to its multiple final resting places throughout the Unites States. Click image for video.

We live IN systems.
We CREATE systems.
We ARE systems.

So what are they?

Donella Meadows’ definition is succinct and accessible:
A system is a set of things – people, cells, molecules, or whatever – interconnected in such a way that they produce their own pattern of behavior.

Here are two representations of a system: garbage collection and a population. One generated from tracking devices; the other a STELLA model. One is human created; the other, naturally occurring.

Is there enough in this model for us to understand a carrying capacity?

Simplified system map of a population dependent on a resource

Lots of pressures exert force on a system. But, each system has a characteristic response – a set of behaviors – to those pressures. Those behaviors reveal the ultimate purpose of a system.

In a school, multiple systems overlap, many of which a teacher or administrator have little control over. However, the school, obviously, is its own system . . . And the principal’s role is to monitor that system. In so doing, the principal keeps tabs on classrooms, the daily metric for the status of the system. More importantly, therefore, the focus of a principal’s work is not evaluation or assessment, but processes that help everyone improve.

OneThing49: a googleplex of distractions

Idle, I wondered about what might be percolating on the web. 

A google of Post-Its

Things I should know about! Things I should do! Right now!

“Google, Google, on the wall, who’s the fairest change method of them all?”

Timmy then types:  “school change.”  And here’s what I got:

  • 10 Big Ideas for School Change
  • 101 Ideas to Make Good Schools Great
  • 65 Ways Students Can Change Schools
  • 6 Ways Teacher Want to Change School
  • 3 Ideas That Will Not Transform Schools
  • 5 Changes Every School Should Make
  • 19 Bold Ideas for Change in Education

And I am sure they are ALL like couch covers – a pretty thing stretched over something broken.  It’s not the WHAT, but HOW.  Change lies latent in the deep structure of a school.  Fix that . . . and things happen fast.

OneThing47: model modeling

Barry Richmond on learning

Barry Richmond - creator of STELLA and systems citizen

Barry Richmond – creator of STELLA and systems citizen

The last few postings on my School Change model have generated some discussion over on the System Dynamics K-12 list-serve that focused less on the structure and more on some philosophy of education and specific pedagogies, things I am somewhat less interested in than the deep structure of change.  While there is a philosophical bent in my model – I am asserting something, after all – my intent of publishing is to focus on the structure to the extent it effectively narrates my ideas about school change.

And this brings me to Barry Richmond, the STELLA creator, who exuded a profound passion for education and learning.  He was an inspiration to me and many in the emerging community of teachers using system dynamics.

Barry's full model integrates all aspects of the learning process

Barry Richmond’s full model integrates all aspects of the learning process

And I want to reprise his Learning Model because I have leaned on it for some of my thoughts about change.  You would likely see the parallel to Barry’s “Constructing a Mental Model” section and my “Curriculum” section (OneThing45).

A few things about Barry the Model-Builder:

  • Simplicity – tell the story of your thinking as clearly and simply as one can.
  • Elegance – the iconography has a beauty in its connectedness, and the rounded links help with the mental model of feedback
  • Grammar – Barry was fond of saying that Stocks are the nouns of the system, and the Flows are the verbs.  This syntax helps the modeler compose.
  • Co-Flows exist in the world – two things happen simultaneously all the time; e.g., the act of simulating also generates decision-making
  • Coining icon titles – language is meant to bend to need and use; Barry coined new words all the time, exemplified here in the Conveyor Ramifying
  • Flows tell the story – in this, as in others of his models, the Richmond preference is to the actions within the bounded system.  There’s the story!

In my School Change model, I am using Barry’s models as a kind of style kind, as a journalist might use the Associated Press Style Guide or a writer Elements of Style.

OneThing46: when students learn, what’s going on?

I have been thinking a lot about student learning.  Not at the single student – single teacher level, but at a high-aggregate level; that is, how do all students in a classroom learn things, forget things; how do teachers’ instructional capacity have impacts on both flows; how do students’ own sense of their learning gaps impact them.

This zoom into STUDENT KNOWLEDGE depicts three key ideas:  students can forget things, teachers impact both learning and forgetting, and students own sense of their gaps impact their learning and forgetting.  An obvious assumption here, since this is a school model, is that all learning is curriculum driven.  Mark Twain, of course, would take issue with that.

This zoom into STUDENT KNOWLEDGE depicts three key ideas: students can forget things, teachers impact both learning and forgetting, and students own sense of their gaps impact their learning and forgetting. An obvious assumption here, since this is a school model, is that all learning is curriculum driven. Mark Twain, of course, would take issue with that.

First, there’s a lot in this . . . and I am leaving out a lot.  A LOT!  And that is intentionally so.  I want to build in a thoughtful, layered way; see what holds up to reason and scrutiny (thank you to all for feedback); and then ever so slowly ascertain a boundary in this system. Second, you have to imagine that the rest of the model (See OneThing45) is attached: Instructional Efficacy emerges from Teacher Learning, which comes from Professional Development.

The most obvious addition here is the outflow from STUDENT KNOWLEDGE (more on this in a moment).  Students flat out forget things.  At the UCLA Bjork Learning and Forgetting Lab, substantive work has been going on for years focusing on retention and various methods of increasing students’ capacity to remember.  Only recently have these methods filtered into schools of education.  Ideas such as interleaving and deep practice are relatively new ideas in education, even though the evidence of their efficacy is substantial.

Now, a vexing question for me is this: what is the accumulation happening in the heads and musculature of students through schooling?  Go back a few iterations of this model, and you’ll see I’ve changed this title a few times:

  • Student Achievement
  • Student Learning
  • Student Understanding
  • Student Knowledge (today, anyway!)

Recently, Tracy Benson commented to me that Learning has always seemed an activity, in other words, a flow.  Barry Richmond, as a few commented, always leaned on Understanding as the accumulation.  However, in the education realm, the mantra now is “it’s all about student learning.”

I’m not too concerned about what the curriculum is or what the pedagogy is.  I am trying to capture a change process that occurs everyday in classrooms.

OneThing45: the Teacher, the Student, and the Work

Three things make a classroom hum with learning

School Change Model 4.0.  This version includes curriculum.

School Change Model 4.0. This version includes curriculum.

In this latest iteration of the School Change Model, I have included the final key ingredient required for an effective classroom: the curriculum. Or, as noted educational researcher Robert Marzano calls it . . . “the guaranteed and viable curriculum,” the single most important factor in student achievement.

Therefore, the three things needed for high impact instruction to occur are students, teachers, and content.  That’s the work.  When there is a change any one of those variables, the other two will necessarily be impacted. If there is a curricular change, teachers need training and the students will consequently do different work; if the students change, then teachers and curriculum may need to change, especially if there is cultural shift in the school.  If teachers change, there will be impacts to the delivery of content and student learning. A change in any one requires attention to the other two.

The Instructional Team Capacity results from teachers having both pedagogical skill (often called “high-impact”) and knowledge of teenagers (a capacity to know what makes teenagers tick).  It is this combined capacity that drives instructional efficacy, an instructional team’s rate of delivering content and engaging student learning.

In this model, then, are the foundational ideas of an adaptive school.  While there are remain some corners of detail that need flashing out, the deep structure of a Learning Team is there.

Simple Capacity Model.  One might focus on the current LEVEL of the stock, or one might focus on the RATE of change.  These will be two really different things.

Simple Capacity Model. One might focus on the current LEVEL of the stock, or one might focus on the RATE of change. These will be two really different things.

Of course, there is never a point when a school has it down, when it should rest when it attains a certain level.  The focus of a Learning Team is on the flow, improving a school’s capacity to deliver highly qualified citizens to its community.  You can imagine the political discussion:

  • CITIZENS: our school’s are not graduating enough college-ready students
  • SCHOOL: we are improving our instruction every year

It would help both to know that they are talking about the same system, just different parts of it!

OneThing44: Team Capacity means what?

Building Instructional Team Capacity is about Skill and Knowledge

Two key stocks build up an Instructional Team's capacity to instruct young people:  acquired pedagogical skills and a knowledge of teenagers.  These are two quite different things.  One can love and understand teenagers but be an ineffective teacher; conversely, one can have the all pedagogical strategies, but with little understanding or empathy for children, very little learning will occur.

Two key stocks build up an Instructional Team’s capacity to instruct young people: acquired pedagogical skills and a knowledge of teenagers. These are two quite different things. One can love and understand teenagers but be an ineffective teacher; conversely, one can have the all pedagogical strategies, but with little understanding or empathy for children, not much learning will occur.

As I think about my School Change Model and build its components, more elements open up to detail.  Admittedly, what is here is but an 80,000 foot view of only one component of school change: how teachers respond to gaps in student learning and improve their craft.  My thinking in these areas flows out of 25 years in classroom instruction and 12 years as an administrator (there’s a six-year overlap in there!) . . . and I am still learning!

The focus on the School Change Model this week has been on the critical stocks that constitute Team Capacity:  Pedagogical Skill and Knowledge of Teens.  

Considerable research in the last 15-20 years (Joyce, Marzano, Lemov, Danielson) and even more so in the last five years (ASCD, Gates Foundation MET) have resulted in clearly effective High-Impact Instructional Strategies that sustain ordered and respectful classrooms where teachers engage students in learning.  Researchers throughout the world  have verified the efficacy of various strategies and tools.  And teachers can (and should) learn these strategies to improve their capacity.

Likewise, what we know about teenagers has grown in the last decade in a few key areas:  cognitive science provides insight in not only brain development but also brain function –  how people learn, how and why people forget things, what happens neurally when children learn (Bjork, Coyle, Dweck).  In addition, cultural competence (West, Singleton, Gay, Payne)  is a critical set of conscious awareness and strategies that help teachers (everyone, really) build empathy for the students entrusted to their care.

Students at De La Salle North Catholic High School, Portland, Oregon

A few of the resilient, beautiful, aspiring students at De La Salle North Catholic High School, Portland, Oregon

At De La Salle North Catholic High School in Portland, the staff is about 80% white whereas nearly 80% of students are ethnic minorities, life experiences that generate quite different world views and aspirations.  As Cornel West’s famous book asserts, race does matter.

I am trying to map a system of change:  what are the key stocks within our bounded system, and how can we leverage them to improve student learning?  Maybe you can help me think this through.

OneThing43: let’s hear it for the Instructional Team!

The School Change model includes vital feedback

Feedback loop depicts how a Gap in Student Learning drives Professional Development (PD) for the Instructional Team.  In the argot of education, the gap is often called the "problem of practice."

Feedback loop depicts how a Gap in Student Learning drives Professional Development (PD) for the Instructional Team. In the argot of education, the gap is often called the “problem of practice.”

So . . . I’ve asserted a key relationship in the School Change model:  the Capacity of the Instructional Team increases  Student Learning.  But how might that actually occur?

In this model iteration, I’ve added a series of thoughts specific to that question.  Names in the parentheses are educational researchers whose work, among others, substantiates the claims.

  • The Instructional Team sets the learning target  (Robert Marzano, Mike Schmoker, et al)
  • The gap between the Target and what students actually know or can do drives the action of the team (Doug Lemov, Elizabeth City, et al)
    • Once the problem of practice is well known, the instructional team conducts research for effective practices
    • The instructional team conducts Professional Development sessions to learn those effective practices
    • The instructional team implements those new practices

This reinforcing loop establishes the key instructional feedback for any teacher:  having established what my students should know or be able to do, I research the most effective means of providing that learning and then I follow through.  There would need to be another reinforcing loop (or two) that includes teacher assessment of student progress, and administrative assessment of whole team efficacy with those new methods; but I purposely left that out for now just to underscore the primary feedback loop driving classroom instruction.

What to include and exclude in the model now starts to take on importance as my representation flowers into increasing complexity.  Even so, my core thinking about how all this works remains explicit.  What questions come to you as you consider this model for School Change?

OneThing42: it’s the Instructional Team that teaches

The Instructional Team’s Capacity is the stock to change

Team2I spent a week reconsidering a very small start: what are the key stocks in the system of school reform. And I changed my mind. It is NOT a single teacher’s capacity, but the composite Instructional Team Capacity that makes the critical difference.  So, at the very heart of a school reform is a team of professionals committed to the learning of a group of students.  And those professionals are themselves learning. 

The difference is they already know how they learn.  They have to figure out two things:  first, what is it they wish their students to know and be able to do; and second, how do their students learn?

The School Reform Model version 1.5

With the Connector I suggest a relationship between these two Stocks.  Notwithstanding a few model-building niceties that will need altering, the core assumption is explicit.  This helps us ask questions about my idea . . .

Some questions come to mind

  • What do you have to do to build up an Instructional Team’s Capacity?
  • Mustn’t there be an minimal and optimal effectiveness of an Instructional Team’s Capacity?
  • What could an Instructional Team do (or a Student do) to slow or stop the forgetting of what a student learns?

These are a few things I will address in next week’s version of the model.  I am hoping you might comment on these questions . . . and that would help with the model.

OneThing41: a model for school reform

Creating a community where everyone learns

De La Salle North Catholic High School in Portland, Oregon, was the first school in the United States to replicate the Cristo Rey model (see Cristo Rey Network) where every student works five days a month in a corporate setting while simultaneously completing a rigorous college preparatory curriculum.

I have been principal at De La Salle North Catholic High School in North Portland for three years. It’s quite a school with an extraordinary staff who work tirelessly and effectively to provide a college-ready curriculum for a diverse, urban community of students, two-thirds of whom qualify for the Federal Free and Reduced Lunch Program.  Over 95% of our graduates go on to college and graduate at rates three times those of the national average for similar SES students.

But there’s no resting on these data.  Our students arrive as timid 9th Graders with reading and math skills one and a half to two years below the norm. In short, our instruction must be so direct and yet also compassionate that our students advance six years while attending but four.  There is so much for us to learn.

Building the model

School Reform 1.1Over the next several weeks, I will construct my model for how we learn.  Just so you know, it’s not yet complete; but I have enough ideas and sufficient disregard for being right the first time that I am ready “to make my ideas explicit,” as Barry Richmond would put it.

So, what are the key stocks in the system? I believe they are STUDENT LEARNING and TEACHER CAPACITY. In this model,  all staff and all students are learners . . . the experienced learners teach the young learners. We live in a world saturated with information and distraction, and where opportunity is limited.  A school, therefore, should be a place where young people learn the requisite skills of discrete retention and professional competence.

I’m curious to see how the model evolves.  I hope you are, too.

OneThing40: understanding is not for the faint of mind

Teaching young people to construct new models of their world

This design graces the back of my classic STELLA t-shirt

We live in a time when our problems defy ready answers.  In fact, they defy even thoughtful answers.  And I am thinking this is so because we’re generally thinking about things the way we always have . . . with a linear, static model.  Our schools are doing a poor job of preparing the next generation of problem solvers.

We’ve not taken to heart Albert Einstein’s dictum: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

Longtime systems advocate Barry Richmond coined a term that describes the kind of person and thinking that we need – Systems Citizen.

Schools have to change in a big way for such hopes to be realized.  And it will take some courageous leadership to move communities who are under the weight of shrinking tax support and swelling results-oriented accountability.  It can be done.

Constructivism – the prime tenent of educational psychology for over a century, but largely ignored in the factory-model of education – compels teachers to provide tasks whereby our students must grapple with problems and, in solving them, generate new understanding.   Students, in fact, construct their new understanding through their own efforts.

Students really want to do this!

And teachers would really like doing this for them!

Enter Barry Richmond’s vision of a cadre of systems teachers leading young people to build and test their mental models. In Tracing Connections, a group of educators honor Barry’s work by laying out a blueprint for how to do this very thing – teach the next generation about systems and, thereby, foster insight and hope for change.

It will be hard, uphill work.  But it needs to be done.