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Using Complexity Thinking to Build Adaptive Capacity in Schools: an Analysis of Organizational Change in California

Description: In response to reductionist neoliberal approaches to organizational change that have been prevalent in American education since the 1980s, some educators have begun to employ a whole-systems approach to improving student learning. These approaches, based in complexity sciences, recognize the nonlinear, unpredictable nature of learning and the interconnected relationships among myriad factors that influence the teaching/learning that occurs in schools. In the summer preceding the 2011-2012 school year, a cohort of educators from California Unified School District participated in a 10-day training regarding human systems dynamics (HSD) and complexity thinking. Their goal was to build adaptive capacity throughout the district in the pursuit of improving student learning. Through analysis of the interviews from seven target participants from this training, this study investigates what target participants report regarding their use of HSD methods and models in their work in schools across the 2011-2012 school year. Findings indicate that target participants displayed distinct arcs of use of HSD methods/models. In addition, findings suggest that target participants’ need for support in learning and implementing HSD methods/models, the influence of systemic and individual history, and the role of agency affected their “arcs of use.” This study illuminates the ways in which HSD methods/models support both organizational change efforts and the ways in which teaching/learning occur in the classroom, including the applicability of HSD methods/models in building collaborative cultures and in helping students develop the kinds of thinking required in the use of 21st-century literacies.
Date: May 2014
Creator: Martin, Teddi Eberly
Partner: UNT Libraries