One of the hardest things I’ve encountered in my teaching career is how to make a change in the systems at play within a building or district. This is simply because most often, I didn’t understand who, or what perhaps, needed to be consulted in the requests. I still don’t know all the inner dynamics of my district and I still run into what I think are inconceivable roadblocks.
The Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession started me thinking about this dilemma at a retreat a few years back when they put a name to my roadblock. In their Teacher Leadership Skills Framework, the identify Systems Thinking as one quality of teacher leadership, which I referenced last year.
Too many times, I have found myself in a situation, wanting to get something changed or approved and that is the point at which I begin to try to identify the systems at play for a decision. But, what if I sat down ahead of time and tried to map out my systems? What if I didn’t do it alone and/or shared my work once complete?
Questions to Pursue to Understand your Systems
- Who do I already know that has knowledge or positions of power? It’s important here to think in terms of “knowing” being someone who you could walk into an office and start a conversation. These are people who will help you in navigating the systems in play or perhaps are a necessary communicator in making a change happen. These can also be organizations like your local union.
- How have a fostered that relationship of people or organizations identified in #1, and what could I do to better build those relationships?
- Where are my building and district policies currently published? How do I know what they are?
- What types of programs or changes do I want and could I want to pursue within my [building] or [district]? Examples: internet filter changes, email access for students, tardy policies, library cards for students, field trip protocols.
- Thinking of what you brainstormed in #4, what types of issues will you see as a teacher? For example, website/programming concerns will crop up at some point and many times, the way to solve those concerns will all follow the same route.
- What steps would I take if I wanted to pursue the items brainstormed in #4 or #5? At this point, you could reach to those people/organizations identified in #1. Ask for a meeting or send an email, what seems like the best method and will yield you information. Your ultimate goal should be to identify which departments or people, and in what order, should be contacted in your pursuit. In your school or district, is it always necessary to start with John A. when pursuing technical issues?
I’m currently a few years deep on some issues that I’ve been trying to work through my district. Having a roadmap and guidance from others on how the systems work would have started me off on a better start, as well as serve me now as I encounter the light at the end of the tunnel. Which, very well could just be a light leading into a new tunnel.
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