Schools that Learn and Systems Thinking

A complicated problem in education is that schools are not only asked to prepare children to achieve success by current established measures (e.g. standardized tests), but also to prepare children for the complexity of their grown-up futures as well (Benson 2010). Most of the schools in our educational system set up classrooms and curricula that in effect “teach to the test”, focusing on practice and rehearsal for exams. However, students who spend the majority of their classroom time learning to pass the tests lose opportunities to gain the many other valuable skills entire, capable, and kind human beings will need to contribute to the larger community around them. As Senge (2012) states “… they learn to pass the test but fail at life.”

All children are born into life as eager, enthusiastic and natural learners. “This instinct begins earlier and lasts longer» (Hall 1988). Throughout our lives, as we progressed from one situation to another we encounter new challenges. If we are ready for them, living and learning become inseparable. (Senge, 2012). Nevertheless, the numbers of students who do not go to college suggests that they do not think that school is the best place to keep learning.

No matter how technologically advanced our world becomes, children will always need safe places for learning. Are our schools offering safe-places for learn to students? Do we have schools where the students continuously develop and grow? Are our school «institutions that learn» or are they places deadlocked in old mental models?

In order to give children a better chance to succeed in life, we have to change our mental models inside the school system, because sometimes the whole system can be changed with small, relatively inexpensive, and well-focused actions, that is actions identified as a «high leverage point.» System thinkers use the “leverage principle” to resolve complex problems. Use of this approach can result in significant and enduring improvements (Benson 2010).

The leverage point often comes from new ways of thinking, which can affected in many ways by small changes that are not obvious to most people, because they do not fully understand why the system operates the way it does (Senge 2012).

Figure 1.Reinforcing nature of the use of systems thinking in the classroom and organization (Benson, 2010)

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Benson (2010) ensures that this feedback loop shows the reinforcing relationship between the incorporation of systems thinking applied to school issues and Systems Thinking interlaced into classroom instruction. The reinforcing nature of this dynamic contributes to a positive learning environment and enhanced student success (Figure 2).


Figure 2. Reinforcing loop of student effort and efficacy (Benson, 2010)

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An example of Systems Thinking can be seen in the Figure 2. This figure shows a feedback loop that clearly illustrates how the self-expectations as individuals reinforces student efficacy. In the end, one of the main reasons why schools exist is the impulse for the student success.

Every school can be transformed into a “School that Learns.” In order to reach this goal, the “Five Disciplines” of organizational learning have to be developed:

Personal Mastery: Is a personal discipline, which is the practice of developing a coherent image of the personal vision of each member, beside a realistic assessment to the current reality of his or her lives today.
Shared Vision: Is a collective discipline, which establishes a focus on mutual purpose that leads the group to create strategies, principles, and guiding practices by which they hope to get their common vision.
Mental Models: is a personal and collective discipline, because the individuals have to reflect and inquiry around developing awareness of attitudes and perceptions. The group of educators in a “School that Learns” develops the capability to talk about dangerous and discomforting subjects.
Team learning: this is a discipline of group interaction, where small groups of people transform their collective thinking in actions to achieve common goals.
System Thinking: with this discipline people learn to better understand interdependency and change, and they are able to deal more effectively with the forces that shape the consequences of their actions. System thinking is a powerful practice for finding the leverage point needed to achieve the most constructive change.



Benson, T., et al, (2010) Tracing Connections: Voices of System Thinking, Isse Systems, USA.

Senge, P., et al, (2012) Schools that learn. A fifth discipline fieldbook for educators, parents and every one who cares about education. Crown Busines, New York, USA.


Un comentario

  1. Transformar la escuela en una organización que aprende es nuestro reto. Las cinco disciplinas que apunta Senge nos orientan hacia estrategias válidas para construir comunidades educativas que comparten una visión que les impulsa al aprendizaje continuo. El método de «System thinking» es una herramienta que nos debe ayudar a capacitarnos para alcanzar muchas de las competencias necesarias para el siglo XXI: pensamiento analítico, pensamiento sistémico, resolución de problemas complejos, etc.

    Sigue construyendo pensamiento entorno a éstas ideas Marta. Es una línea de reflexión con un gran potencial.

    Le gusta a 1 persona

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