Designing for a School System that Learns

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In a complex and dynamic world young people need to devise ways of adapting flexibly, they need to be prepared to undertake something unforeseen, to renew our common world. Yet education emphasizes conformity and compliance underpinned by the deeply seated metanarratives of scarcity, standardization, fragmentation, and control. These metanarratives are embedded in the learning, teaching, and leadership in our schools and in the very reform initiatives that seek to change them. In this study I endeavoured to disrupt and replace these ideas. I draw on system thinking, design, and designing learning to reframe school system leadership as designing for a system that learns. From a design-based approach I partnered with school district leaders to redesign a school district’s strategic plan and implementation process. I share the practical design solutions that were developed in response to the needs of the context and chronicle the iterative design process that was driven by the analysis of empirical data. With the aim of opening up possibilities for how system leaders might practice design for a system that learns, I present a theoretical model featuring four interconnected design principles: divergence and convergence to balance autonomy and coordination; feedback cycles to drive iteration; network connectivity to encourage brokerage between and within systems; and design culture to create the conditions for learning to become a collective responsibility. Finally, I reflect on design-based research, complexity, and Indigenous ways of knowing to expand the space of the possible for future research.
Design, Complexity, Leadership, Systems Thinking, Anti-oppression, Indigenous ways of knowing
Hill, J. T. (2020). Designing for a School System that Learns (Doctoral thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada). Retrieved from