Systems Thinking–and Praying for Wisdom~

Communication and Collaboration: BLOG for WEEK 7

How might you expand
your concept of leadership to include parents and community?  What aspects of systems thinking are novel to
you, and where do you see your strengths?
How can you build your capacity in these areas?

I found this week’s topic of “systems thinking” to be
especially interesting because I perceive this type of thinking as a strength
of mine—often the way my mind works, however, the issue of expanding leadership
to the community is an area that I am less comfortable with—even after all
these years.

In my role as a special education teacher at the high school
level, the importance of connecting with parents and community takes on a new
dimension as the issue of preparing students to transition into the adult world
becomes paramount. While my case management list includes students in grades
9-12 and much of my work involves interacting with all students with IEPs
(regardless of their case manager), I believe some of my greatest strengths
have been most apparent within my “comfort level” of focusing on the needs of 9th
and 10th graders as they enter and engage in the high school
environment.  I have found a niche in helping
students and parents to navigate the system of credits, transcripts and implement
the study skills required to be successful. Additionally, I have endeavored to
help them  realize how quickly the time
will pass before they reach the “transfer of rights” at age 18, graduation
occurs, or IEP team decisions are made for the student to continue in the
public school setting through age 21. Based on the nature of job
responsibilities and teaching assignments within the department, other
colleagues have focused more on working specifically with the seniors.  As I consider the “Systems Thinking
Self-Assessment” chart, my strengths have been most prominent within the high school setting—working
with teachers, counselors, and administrators on behalf of my students. In
particular, I see my key strengths as: “Understanding and working within the
rules of formal and informal established hierarchies to complete the
task…Posing the right questions at the right time to the right people…staying
attuned to relationships and how they influence decisions…and having the
ability to “read” people and situations”.

As a parent who has now experienced first-hand, having two
of my three children graduate (the youngest now in 10th grade)—I now
have a broader view of the “transition” process and the parent perspective has
become more clear. In fact, the magnitude of the responsibility I now feel as a
teacher to prepare both students and parents for this dramatic shift, weighs
more heavily on me than ever before.  I see
a need within myself to increase and expand my skills in connecting with
parents and the community and to more effectively communicate information to
all—particularly concerning the transition of students into the adult world.
Ironically, my desire to place more emphasis on developing the “self-advocacy
skills” within my students—will require the further development of my own
“Skills of Advocacy” as noted in the CSTP “Systems Thinking” chart.
Specifically, I sense the need to “create and implement plans to meet (these
new) goals…identify and influence key decision makers, and…craft and deliver
effective messages to stakeholders and key decision makers.” I feel like a new
9th grader, just starting high schoolJ

Chapter 13 in Zepeda offers wonderful descriptions of the
purposes, functions, and benefits of portfolios that coincide with the
expectations set forth in Dr. Williams’ screencasts and materials for this
course, as well as preparation for the C & I Capstone course. With a similar
purpose as the C & I bPortfolio , I am strongly considering suggesting to
my PLC team that we require our seniors to use an online portfolio system as they prepare for their Senior
Culminating Project. I can see a slight revision to the following statement,
cited within Zepeda on page 279, as being applicable to my students: “…one of
the most important and long-lasting outcomes of producing a portfolio is the
self-esteem that comes from recording and reflecting on achievements…” and success in school. Three years ago,
our school considered the online portfolio for all seniors, however, logistics
and lack of sufficient computer access led to a hard copy format instead. I believe
we would see significant benefits to using this tool and would like to investigate
the possibility of reinstating this option for students with IEPs.

Within the Blackboard system this week, dialogues with
colleagues have centered on experiences beyond the classroom—in board meetings,
community settings, district committees or opportunities to interact with
parents at school functions after hours. An example of one such dialogue is as

An excerpt from colleague:

‘Instead I tend to stick with the plan others are presenting
when there may be suggestions that could make the plan even better. However, I
don’t always speak up.  I need to work on
delivering my message in an effective way that will influence others. I need to
work on speaking my mind and not being so worried about what others may think.’

My response: Even in the leadership roles that I hold, by
the nature of my personality– I have a tendency to not speak up, and to
instead, “go with the flow”. I do try, however, to pray for
discernment as to which situations truly warrant a different perspective. In
doing so, I try to use the benefits of my reflective nature–making an
appointment to either speak directly with key individuals (if appropriate) or
express my thoughts in writing. This approach can often help me to feel less
intimidated and provides more time to think, rather than simply react. I find
this method to be especially helpful in situations where feelings might be


Williams, T. (2011) Getting beyond the classroom: involving
parents and community. Screencast retrieved November 8, 2011 from from SPU

Williams, T. (2011) Systems Thinking Screencast , Retrieved
November 8, 2011 from SPU Blackboard:

Zepeda, S. (2008). Professional Development: What Works. New
York: Eye on Education.Readings.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Laurie,
    I think action research would be a great way of helping students gain “skills of self-advocacy”! I liked when you said that you need to develop these skills in yourself in you want to develop your students self-advocacy skills. Good reflection!


  2. revisiting the idea of digital portfolios with both the added perspective of time and distance as buffers will likely give you and your colleagues some ways to think about how this kind of process and container can support the present and future needs of your students… I’ll be interested in how this goes!
    In terms of praying for wisdom… I often think that what can help me the most in gaining a teachable spirit is to see things from other’s perspectives, and to utilize time in a way that allows me to separate what is urgent from what will make lasting and structural improvement. It might be a little akin to praying for patience… we should do it, but allow for the outcome to be out of our control.


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