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Systems Theory and Site Based Management

Systems Theory and Site Based Management

Author: Gino Sangiuliano

In this lesson, students analyze the connection between site based management and systems theory.

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Source: Globe, Clker,; Thinking Person, Clker,; Popcorn, Pixabay,; Border, Pixabay,; Table People, Pixabay,; Map People, Pixabay,; Peter Senge, Wikimedia Commons,

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Hello there, and welcome to this lesson called Systems theory and site-based management. Here we'll take a look at the connection between site-based management and systems theories. So let's get started.

Later in this video, you will learn about the term mental model, and that got me thinking about assumptions and generalizations. It's funny how sometimes we have an idea or an assumption in our head that influences our decisions. For example, I enjoy watching movies a great deal, and I can make the argument that my assumptions and generalizations play an important part in what I choose to watch. For instance, I'm not a fan of Nicolas Cage. Apologies to any fans out there. So I avoid movies that he's in. Or if I see one, I have a preconceived notion that I'll probably not like it. The opposite is true for any movie that has, let's say, Johnny Depp in it. I guess those generalizations also influence how I view entertainment as well.

Systems theory isn't that complicated, but it's an important concept to consider in site-based management. The gist of the theory is that the whole is the sum of the parts in organizations. Furthermore, it's the manner in which each member works together that contributes to the success of the entire organization. Systems theory had its origins in biology. However, it was Peter Senge, pictured here, that modified it to fit organizational theory and management in education.

Senge outlined five disciplines that make up schools. They are systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, shared vision, and team learning. He explains that these disciplines need to work together in order to create successful systems and structures in schools. What this means in a practical sense is that schools should create teams that work collaboratively to establish a mission and a vision that is clearly communicated throughout the organization. And the leaders foster and support that difficult work through training and professional development.

The definition of systems thinking is using an understanding of structure or the existing system to better understand or make inferences about behavior. System thinking allows leaders to look at the big picture. In many cases, this means the connections between the member responsible for putting the structures in place and the structures themselves. This allows leadership groups to better understand the interconnectedness of the moving parts they are faced with daily in their organization. Another benefit in systems thinking is that it allows leaders and groups to create a cycle of inquiry and feedback that will help them better understand and communicate the current reality of the situation, and to consider any changes that are needed for improvement.

Next, personal mastery. That's using strategies and techniques to develop personal vision and an objective view of reality. In all systems in almost any field, leaders are responsible for building the personal mastery of the team members responsible for change or action. In order to do this, leaders themselves must first understand what training and support is needed to drive change toward continuous improvement. There's also an important component of self-reflection involved, because leaders must have an understanding of their own level of personal mastery in this area.

Mental models are defined as the existing ideas, assumptions, and generalizations that influence how we view and interact with the world. In the words of Peter Senge, "our mental models determine not only how we make sense of the world, but how we take action." It behooves leaders to understand the mental models of their team members and the stakeholders to effectively enact change. Knowing what their preconceived biases and beliefs are will make leaders aware of issues that may drive or block progress. Change can be difficult, and leaders need to have the ability to counteract resistance and communicate their message in a respectful way. Understanding the mental models of the stakeholders helps.

When we talk about a leader who has integrity, we are referring to someone who is able to be honest about their own set of assumptions and biases. When leaders take that into consideration, actively listen, ask questions, reflect, and then take action, positive change can happen.

Building a shared vision means collaborating with teams to develop and come to consensus. In schools as well as other organizations, teams must consider the resources-- human, capital, and technological-- that are in place and needed to reach that vision. The work doesn't stop there, however. Communicating that vision to the greater population of stakeholders has to happen as well.

Next we have team learning. It is defined as learning as a team by engaging in dialogue and setting aside assumptions to work together more effectively. This is really considered the most critical and most difficult element for site-based management. The conditions must be right in order for team learning to occur. That means teams develop the norms, shared vision, mission, goals, and trust that is necessary to move forward with their individual learning, as well as their collaborative efforts.

Team learning has been proven to impact learners' feelings of empowerment, as well as promoting creative and collaborative thinking to find solutions and take action needed to drive change for continuous improvement. In conclusion, Peter Senge's five disciplines will empower leaders and team members to create systems that will drive change towards that continuous improvement that we're looking for.

So it's time to go ahead and summarize this lesson. We began by looking at systems theory, then broke down Peter Senge's five disciplines that can help drive change. They are systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, shared vision, and team learning.

Here's today's food for thought. Go back and reread the slide on mental models. Consider the assumptions and generalizations that influence decisions that you make. Now it's your turn to apply what you've learned here. The Additional Resources section will be super helpful. This section is designed to help you discover useful ways to apply what you've learned here. Each link includes a brief description so you could easily target the resources that you want. Thank you so much for joining me. Have a great day. We'll see you next time.

Notes on "Systems Theory and Site Based Management"

(00:00-00:11) Intro

(00:12-00:54) Movies

(00:55-01:23) System Theory

(01:24-02:05) The 5 Disciplines

(02:06-03:26) Systems, Thinking, and Personal Mastery

(03:27-04:49) Mental Models and Shared Vision

(04:50-05:43) Team Learning

(05:44-06:29) Food For Thought/Summary

Additional Resources

Looking Both Ways through the Windows of Senge's Five Disciplines

This article provides a comprehensive definition of each of the five disciplines. In addition, the article includes coaching questions designed to help leaders and teams develop ownership of the five disciplines within their practice and organization.

Society for Organizational Learning, North America: Peter M. Senge

This page provides links to discussions by Peter Senge, including one on Systems Thinking. Scroll down to listen to Senge discuss Systems Thinking and what it means for organizations and leaders.