SEDL Monthly: January 2009
SEDL Monthly: Advancing Research, Improving Education January 2009
Woman explaining Phases

A Culture of Systemic Change
SEDL's Working Systemically approach helps districts and schools move from fragmented improvement efforts toward a more coherent way of implementing change.

new at SEDL

What Does It Mean to Work Systemically?

Drawing on more than 3 decades of school reform research and theory, a team of SEDL staff has produced Working Systemically in Action: A Guide for Facilitators. This guide helps school change facilitators implement SEDL's Working Systemically approach, a multidimensional process for school improvement focused on ensuring that each part of the education system is on the same page.

"Ensuring that every student enrolled in our schools receives high-quality instruction from caring adults often requires some big changes in expectations and in the way many local systems operate," says D'Ette Cowan, one of the authors of the guide and a project director at SEDL. "It requires local systems to become learning organizations in order to see what lies below the surface. This can only happen if leaders at all levels of the system—superintendents, principals, central office staff, and teachers—become proactive in rethinking and refining the way their system operates."

Working Systemically involves the following three dimensions:

  1. Levels ("the who"—national, state, and intermediate agencies; districts; schools; classrooms)
  2. Components ("the what"—standards; curriculum; instruction; assessment; resources; staff; policy; family and community)
  3. Competencies ("the how"—creating coherence; collecting, interpreting, and using data; ensuring continuous professional learning; building relationships; responding to changing conditions)

Cowan believes that using data effectively to monitor implementation and impact of improvement initiatives is critical to achieving lasting results. She stresses that components and competencies need to be developed at all levels of the system through the following five-phase process outlined in Working Systemically in Action:

  • Phase 1: Scanning the System
  • Phase 2: Analyzing the System
  • Phase 3: Planning Action
  • Phase 4: Taking Action and Monitoring Progress
  • Phase 5: Assessing and Reflecting on Outcomes

The guide contains useful resources to help facilitators use the Working Systemically approach to study the interrelated roles of individuals at all levels and make sustainable, long-term improvements. It includes a CD-ROM containing all the tools and handouts referenced in the guide. Review Introduction to Working Systemically online.

To order a copy of Working Systemically in Action, written by Cowan, Stacey Joyner, and Shirley Beckwith, call SEDL's publications department at 800-476-6861 or order online. The cost for the book is $35.

View other school improvement products available at the SEDL Store. SEDL products support high-quality teaching, improved learning, and increased student performance.

tips and tools

Developing a Shared Vision Statement

group of people working togetherThe journey to school improvement and student achievement is a joint venture. Everyone involved—administrators, teachers, students, parents, and community members—needs to develop a focused image of the goal and follow a map that will lead them there together. This concept, known as shared vision, fosters success because everyone becomes part of the process, understanding and believing in his or her role in the day-to-day pursuits of helping students learn in productive ways.

It is often helpful for those involved in the process of developing a shared vision to think about the type of school they would like their own children to attend. Providing unfinished statements for these individuals to consider compels them to focus on what they believe this ideal setting would look like. Some good examples include the following:

  • "I believe a school should teach …"
  • "I want my child's school to become a place where …"
  • "A successful student is one who … "
  • "The kind of school I would like my child to attend …"
  • "An effective classroom is one in which … "
  • "A productive school faculty is one that …"
  • "A quality instructional program includes…"

To learn more about the change process, see

Free Resources

SEDL Letter

The above tips on developing a shared vision statement was derived from an article in the December 2005 issue of SEDL Letter. The article also discusses using Innovation Configuration Maps to make clear what everyone should be doing to reach the shared vision. The article is titled, "A Vision for School Improvement."

Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement (CSRI)

The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement (CSRI) Web site is another resource to help achieve your goal of school improvement. The Center's mission is to help schools organize, plan, implement, and sustain improvement by providing reliable information about research-based strategies and assistance. The Center's Web site currently houses tools, guides, a literature database, and links related to school improvement.

View other free school change and improvement resources available on the SEDL Web site. Subscribe to SEDL Letter, our award winning magazine that examines issues that affect schools and districts today: teaching, reading, hiring and supporting quality teachers, and improving student achievement.

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Questions or comments should be directed to:
Laura Shankland
4700 Mueller Blvd.
Austin, TX 78723
Phone: 512-391-6556
Fax: 512-476-2286