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?




You’re looking at the Pacific Northwest. The green diagonal slash is the Cascade Range, replete with Douglas Fir, composite volcanoes, and well-hidden marijuana farms. There’s the Oregon and Washington coastline (left), Puget Sound and the southern tip of Vancouver Island (top), and Columbia River Basin (bottom right). West of the Cascades are the cities: Eugene – Salem – Portland – Olympia – Tacoma – Seattle – Vancouver.  Approximately 10.3 million live here.  How’s that working out?  Even the best answer is . . . well . . . complicated.

Enter System Dynamics – a set of critical thinking skills developed by Jay Forrester at the MIT Sloan School of Management that helps one understand how disparate pieces work together in a system.  I first learned about System Dynamics at an NSF Summer Institute in Portland in 1993.  Whoever I was before 1993 vanished from the earth. Since that time, I’ve taught teachers and students about system dynamics, systems thinking, and the rhythms of everyday life . . . because it’s all OneThing.

In itsallonething, I turn my attention to two ideas:  sustainability and school change. Sustainability . . . because we all need to learn how to live within the natural rhythms of our watershed.  School change . . . because we’re living through the most exciting, rapidly changing times in education . . . ever!

Poke around, please . . . you’ll find cool things, quick things, and my systems thoughts about sustaining places and educating people. There’s a lot to say.  Hope you’ll find it interesting and maybe spread the word.

Thanks for reading,


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.

Buckminster Fuller: World Man

Bucky was at the leading edge of a world view that can no longer be ignored: systems thinking helps us understand our connectedness and dependence on our local biome.


Buckminster Fuller was way ahead of his time. While he is famous for his geodesic dome, which took form in Disney’s “Spaceship Earth” Epcot Center and other buildings, as well as his innovative maps, Fuller’s deeper impact may be on our thinking. He was one of the first modern Western thinkers to connect architecture to ecology and the environment. In a fascinating new book edited by Daniel Lopez-Perez called R. Buckminster Fuller: World Man, Alejandro Zaerao-Polo writes that he was one of the first to describe “the modern world as an ecosystem to be reconciled with nature.” Back in the mid-60s, way before the sustainable design movement took root, he was talking about “energy, fossil fuels, food, and pollution.” He was one of the first systems-thinkers, serving as one of the intellectual godfathers of today’s integrated approach to sustainable design.

His geodesic dome, which was featured at…

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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.

QuickThing16: youth of today are the non-drivers of tomorrow

From Sightline – the bloggers and researchers of sustainability in the Pacific Northwest – comes this new item in their continuing series on fewer drivers.  Here, this blog speaks about three different long-term flows slowly impacting the American car craze . . . and, thereby, road construction and the car industry and gas prices and transit use . . . and who knows what else.

Young People Are Driving Less | Sightline Daily.

QuickThing15: dazzling wind map

Wind Map

The famed Columbia Gorge has seams of these turbines threading across its landscape.

Hasn’t our fascination with understanding and teaching about systems been connected to the dichotomy between the world we live in (a dynamic, always-moving ) and how we represent it to students (reduced, lineal, static)?

This map gives a sense of how winds move and behave as a single thing.

Here, then, from Google is a beautiful thing.  Click. Watch. Zoom in all you want.

Wind Map.

Click on OneThing39 to read about summer conferences.

QuickThing14: driving car companies crazy

Oregonians – and Americans – are car crazy no more

Here’s a surprising story . . .

Across the country, the generation coming up is driving less, owning fewer cars, and eschewing the idea of auto-mobility. Take in this graph of Oregon’s Vehicle Miles Traveled graph – it shows that present day VMT is at levels from the late 1980’s!

To be sure, some part of this results from the economic downturn starting in fall 2008. Nonetheless, this represents a dramatic turnabout in American culture.

Do you still need a hot car to score a hot date?

Almost half of 18-24 year olds would choose internet access over wheels.  I recall, now, a faint memory from about 20 summers ago:  beautiful day, a few kids out riding bicycles, running through the streets, being kids.  But there on the curb, oblivious to nature’s gift of a day and the sheer joy of play, sat two boys playing with their Gameboys.

It’s new generation!

Of course, there are a few explanations for this.  Increased density in the last 20 years has made mass transit a better deal.  Owning a car IS an expensive proposition.  Many young couples actually own a single car. My own children did not purchase a car until well into their 20’s, and only then when they had children.

The Portland Street Car routes have doubled, and are about to double again with the opening of the east side lines.

It’s taken a long time for all this feedback to take hold:  rising fuel costs, increased density in urban centers, improved mass transit, more convenient and low cost housing along those mass transit throughways, and a generation whose values differ from those previous relative to social freedom.

OneThing39: a summer for Common Core, STEM & Sustainability

Stepping away to learn so that we can find our instructional stride

The Creative Learning Exchange (CLE) and the Sustainability Education Summer Institute (SESI) sponsor summer conferences and institutes that help us all do our jobs just a little bit better – reaching out to teachers to prepare them for teaching about systems and sustainability.

The CLE sponsors the national Systems Thinking & Dynamic Modeling Conference for K-12 Education in Wellesley, MA, June 30 – July 2.  This conference features teachers and systems practitioners in a three-day Chautauqua of best practices from around the United States. This year’s focus is on the Common Core and STEM Standards, two profound threads of educational reform that have swept through school districts bringing change and new conversations.  This 10th Biennial conference brings together the systems community’s preeminent voices – Peter Senge, George Richardson, and Dennis Meadows.

Over the last two decades, I have participated and presented at this conference as it has criss-crossed the United States: Arizona, New Hampshire, Washington, and Massachusetts.  It’s the kind of conference where neophytes and experts gather to learn and share.  There are many great things about this conference:  teachers share best instructional practices in systems education, and system practitioners share their expertise with teachers.  It’s akin to writing teachers attending a conference alongside the best novelists in the country.

The Learning Tree at Islandwood on Bainbridge Island, WA

Across the country, near the northwest tip of the Pacific Northwest, SESI 2012 gets underway on Bainbridge Island, at a sustainability enclave called Islandwood.  This year’s event features three strands for sustainability educators:  start up teachers wanting to learn, best practices among current teachers, and a deep learning path for experienced teachers.  The first strand includes sessions in systems thinking.  And Fritjof Capra’s Center for EcoLiteracy is a one of the co-sponsors.

If you to step away from modern society and our urban landscape, then come here.  Islandwood will transport you into a sustainability dreamland where the rhetoric and hopes of environmentalism and sustainability are everyday practiced.  You can see what’s possible.  By the way, Washington state is one of the very states with requirements for sustainability education and systems thinking.  I grateful for the real honor to present and participate in SESI 2009.

Get out there!  Learn!  Teach!