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Reflecting on the "Broken" System

Deming’s work, regarding quality control, has been extrapolated into the field of education for decades. One of his most profound ideas asserts that the “system” is responsible for 94% of the successes or failures of the customer or client (in this case, the “student”) and 6% of all outcomes (of the system) have to do with extreme environmental factors (that lie outside of the system’s control).

In other words, if a school or school district consistently fails its students, it is because the system is set up to do exactly what it is supposed to do: “fail students.” If a system produces increasingly successful student achievement, learning, and well-being, it is because the system was created (or reformed) to become a nurturing learning environment focused on the students.

The age-old debate about which is more important: the individual or the system is one worth revisiting, still, even today. While a system is made up of parts, it is the collective parts that create the overall success of the system. When the parts are highly successful, but the system still fails, one must look at the ways in which the system is set up to reduce the success of its parts.

OK, stay with me, here . . .

So, if we have a school with 25 highly successful teachers, but the system still creates an outcome of poor student achievement results, the leadership of that system and the decision-making of the system in terms of policies, procedures, practices, and explicit leadership behaviors must be examined to find out what is happening!

When I speak with educators, they sometimes complain that they work hard for their students, but their efforts fall into a black hole of systematic safeguards, bureaucracies, or wrong-headed policies and decision-making that prevents them from being successful.

So, I ask you these questions for reflection:

1. What should a successful system look like? How should teachers be supported?

2. Who should set policies, practices, and decision-making for the system?

3. What is holding back student progress when a system fails students for 1 year, 3 years, or even 10 years in a row?

4. What systemic policies, practices, or procedures should be created, collaboratively?

5. In what ways can students contribute to changing faulty systems?

Whatever your answers to these questions are, we know that we will head to our classrooms and schools tomorrow and strive to do the very best that we can.

But, if your broken system frustrates you, what are you going to do to analyze what is broken and what are you going to do to fix it?

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