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Systems Theory and Site Based Management

Systems Theory and Site Based Management

Author: Jody Waltman

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

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Systems theory is an important concept for us to consider as we think about implementing site-based management. And so in this tutorial, we'll analyze the connections between site-based management and systems theory. After an overview of systems theory, we'll take a closer look at all five of the elements of systems theory listed here-- systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, building a shared vision, and team learning. Let's get started.

Let's begin with an overview of systems theory. Systems theory tells us that the whole is the sum of the parts. So in terms of an organization or in a school situation, this refers to the way in which all of the members of the organization or the school work together in order to collaboratively or collectively define the success of that organization or school. Systems theory actually began in biological science, but it has been modified so that we can also apply it to organizational theory and to management in educational settings.

So in the context of education, the five disciplines that we'll be looking at throughout this tutorial work together to create the structures and systems of schools. In general, then, in site-based management, a strategy that adheres to systems theory is to clearly communicate the established vision and mission and to ensure that there are regular opportunities for team members to collaborate as they are working together towards the vision and the mission. Furthermore, through training, leaders need to encourage and support hard work.

So now let's take a closer look at each of those five disciplines in turn. Let's begin with systems thinking. This is an understanding of the existing structure or the existing system which helps us to better understand the behavior of others or to make inferences about others' behaviors. This allows leaders or leadership groups to see the big picture of all of the various connections among the structures and the members of the organization.

When these leaders and leadership groups are able to understand how all of the moving parts within the organization are interconnected, this can help them to develop inquiry and feedback loops that will further their understanding and will also serve to communicate the current reality and also to communicate the changes that are going to be needed for improvement.

The next discipline in systems theory is personal mastery. Personal mastery refers to using techniques and strategies in order to develop an objective view of reality and your own personal vision. In the context of a system, leaders should be helping to build personal mastery in the members of their system. And this is especially true for those who are responsible for actions of change within that organization.

So personal mastery requires leaders to understand the support and the training that the members of the organization might need in order to reach the personal mastery that is going to drive change and continuous improvement in the organization. It also means that leaders need to understand their own levels of personal mastery, and they need to be aware of the support and the training that they might need in order to facilitate the change and the continuous improvement that are desired.

The next discipline in systems theory is mental models. Our mental models are our existing assumptions and ideas and generalizations that influence our world view and our interactions. In systems theory, effective leaders are going to be able to understand the mental models that their team members might have. This can help leaders to effectively enact change because it involves identifying the preconceived beliefs and biases that might impact progress in one way or another, potentially driving progress but also potentially blocking progress.

This understanding of mental models also can help leaders to counteract resistance to proposed changes. And it can facilitate communication with stakeholders based upon the mental models of those stakeholders. An understanding of mental models also helps leaders to honestly consider their own assumptions and biases so that they can actively listen and ask questions and engage in reflection and ultimately take action based upon what they have learned through this process.

The next discipline in systems theory is building a shared vision. It's important for leaders and teams to collaborate in order to develop a shared vision of the future of the organization. They need to come to a consensus on what this shared vision looks like. Leaders and teams need to consider all of the resources that are in place and those that are needed to reach the shared vision. This would include human resources, capital resources, and technological resources. Leaders and teams also need to effectively communicate that shared vision to all of the stakeholders.

The final discipline in systems theory is team learning. This refers to engaging in dialogue and setting aside assumptions in order to work together effectively and to learn as a team. Team learning happens when team members are working collaboratively to create their norms and visions and missions and goals. This develops the trust that is necessary in order for the team to move forward, both with their own individual learning and with their collaborative efforts. This process encourages the empowerment in creative thinking and collaborative problem solving that will help team members to be able to find solutions and to put actions into place that will help to drive the change that is needed in continuous improvement efforts.

Leaders who are looking to use site-based management and site-based initiatives to drive change and continuous improvement should aim to actively employ the five disciplines of systems theory. These five disciplines can empower both leaders and team members to create site-based management and site-based initiatives systems that are collaborative, productive, and ultimately effective.

So now it's your tread to stop and reflect. Can you think of instances where you've seen some of the disciplines in systems theory employed successfully? How might you apply those strategies in future site-based management initiatives? As you reflect on how this new information can be applied, you may want to explore the Additional Resources section that accompanies this video presentation. This is where you'll find links to resources chosen to help you deepen your learning and explore ways to apply your newly acquired skill set. Thanks for watching. Have a great day.

Notes on "Systems Theory and Site Based Management"

(00:00 - 00:28) Introduction

(00:29 - 01:43) Systems Theory

(01:44 - 02:39) Systems Thinking

(02:40 - 03:39) Personal Mastery

(03:40 - 04:53) Mental Models

(04:54 - 05:30) Building a Shared Vision

(05:31 - 06:24) Team Learning

(06:25 - 06:54) Summary

(06:55 - 07:30) Stop and Reflect

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.