What If Education Systems Emphasized More Than Teacher Effectiveness?

Systems thinking has been introduced in classrooms around the world, including the Philippines. A key leader in this training, Tracy Benson of the Tuscon-based Waters Foundation, says she's more convinced than ever of the benefits it brings to students and teachers.

What If Education Systems Emphasized More Than Teacher Effectiveness?

Systems thinking creates new thirst for learning

A recent Washington Post article by Finnish education thought leader Pasi Sahlberg questions whether the emphasis American school reformers put on teacher effectiveness is really the best approach to improving student achievement.

“Just having better teachers in schools will not automatically improve students’ learning outcomes,” Pasi argues, also making the case against the “toxic use of accountability for schools” and espousing the need for greater teacher autonomy.

A solution he does not touch on, but which is generating significant outcomes in schools around the world, is the application of systems thinking across education systems.

Tracy Benson is manager of the Systems Thinking in Schools special program sponsored by the Waters Foundation, which has been bringing systems thinking into education communities around the world for more than two decades. 

We caught up with Tracy recently to discuss what she’s experienced and observed as she’s coached and trained educators and students on this approach.

  Tracy Benson presents on systems thinking in education in Mexico.

This edited interview is Part 1 of a three-part series.

Q: What’s resonating for you as you observe and participate in the application of systems thinking in educational systems?

Tracy: What resonates for me most are the benefits systems thinking brings to classrooms and schools.

And that’s twofold. In terms of student learning, we see that the systems-thinking habits and tools give children useful ways to develop and organize their thinking around complex situations. The habits and tools also help them with communication of that thinking because they can develop vocabulary and visual representations that accurately describe the way they interpret dynamic systems. By dynamics, I mean the ways that elements in a system change over time and also the causal factors that contribute to those changes.

So the student learning piece is one major benefit.

The other is in terms of teacher development, that teachers see new possibilities in their instructional practice and new potential in their students.

I often hear teachers say things like, “I never imagined my children were capable of this level of thinking,” and “the habits and tools have helped me be a better teacher.” It gives them strategies to take lessons to new levels and discussions to deeper levels.

They also say that their students are more motivated and engaged; that they feel challenged in ways that build curiosity and a new thirst for learning. Even the reluctant learners tend to become more engaged in ways that aren’t necessarily typical. Children will say, “I’ve never felt smart before, and using the tools helped me communicate my thinking in ways I’ve never been able to before.”

Q: What’s the one thing you would like to see done in this application that you believe could accelerate impact?

Tracy: If I were to have one thing that would accelerate the impact, it would be to provide educators — I’m including a broad range of teachers, administrators, counsellors, librarians, anybody that is working with children in an educational setting — the time to learn new strategies in a collaborative setting.

Days are so busy. To be able to allocate time where teachers can really reflect on their practice, learn some new strategies that can help them take their practice to a new level and also help them see themselves in their role as an educator — which systems thinking really helps them do. They can look at their classroom as a system and see themselves as a part that has great influence, and also be able to determine, “What is the leverage that’s going to help enhance not only student achievement but also develop each and every child to their potential?”

  • More to come.

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A version of this article was originally written for the Tahoma School District news service. This repost, for which we received permission, follows the style guidelines of the original post. To learn more about generative newsroom options for your organization or community, please contact peter(at)axiomnews.ca.


It is really easy to put everything on teachers. But is it smart? As for me, child’s education is a collaboration of a few factors: teachers, students and his parents. The most interesting that one cannot exist without other two. So, the percentage is 50/50 where 50-teacher and school, and another 50 is student and his parents. Only this formula can help achieving success starting from buying essays ( follow this) and ending with writing a dissertation .

Writer Bio

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Michelle Strutzenberger

Michelle Strutzenberger has been a Generative Journalist and curator with Axiom News for more than 15 years.

She's most grateful for the incredible people she gets to work with every day at Axiom News, as well as the many other amazing folks she's encountered through this work.

"I have always seen the opportunity to do this work as a gift," she says.

Michelle's writing has also been published by a wide variety of other organizations and publications, including the following:
- Abundant Community, an initiative of authors John McKnight and Peter Block to awaken the power of families and neighbourhoods
- PLAN Institute, a network dedicated to enabling families to create a good life for people with disabilities
-.New Scoop YYC, Calgary's news co-op practicing Generative Journalism
- The Canadian Community Economic Development Network
- Nieuwmakers, a Belgian news agency
- Restore Commons, an initiative of Peter Block and friends
- Academy for Systemic Change

Contact Michelle: 705-741-4421 ext. 27 or michelle(at)axiomnews.com.

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