Unpacking the K12 Ecosystem (working on frameworks for social change)

Posted on January 29, 2012 by

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The problems of the world seem to be growing more difficult to solve.  Consider public education:  K12 is a set of complex and intertwined challenges that seem to defy resolution.

To understand K12 education as an ecosystem, think of it as series of interactions among a variety of closely knit stakeholders.  Teachers, parents and students are the principal actors, but there is a host of others, including area school boards, local communities, a raft of state legislatures, the Federal DOE, and a handful of text book companies.  And the forces at work are strong.  Tradition, culture and silo-thinking work against change, essentially anchoring us to the status quo.

Among stakeholders there are significant conflicts and diverging priorities.  Ecosystem outcomes routinely fail to align with our intentions.  Look at dropout rates.  Look at teacher pay and attrition.  Look at despair in the inner city.

Everyone admits that it shouldn’t be this way.  Yet viable answers are elusive.

Reared in an industrial world, the machine is the operative metaphor and ’cause and effect’ thinking is the guiding force.  We instinctively seek simple answers to all our problems.  Often, in the U.S., it’s done by throwing money at issues.  Why can’t we just fix schools?  Or healthcare?  Or the economy?  It’s because these are all social ecosystems, and they all defy simple solutions.  There is no one law (NCLB), one model (Charters, Montessori), or one big idea (Race to the Top) that will address systemic issues.

The people behind ECOSYS come together with these challenges in mind.

Who are we?   Most of us are parents.  Many are teachers and educators.  But all of us are engaged stakeholders who support high quality education for children everywhere.  With focus and positive energy people can to come together to drive that change, working to solve hard problems like these.  Public conversation draws in a variety of viewpoints, which is key for surfacing new ideas and new thinking.

How do we frame the challenge?  The emergence of complexity thinking tells us that studying interactions helps us understand the patterns that work.   How do people across the ecosystem behave?  What motivates them?  What ultimately drives outcomes?  Once we understand those forces and patterns, we can identify possible solutions and ways to guide their implementation.

What is our approach?  We’re using the collaborative potential of social media to connect & interact publicly.  We discuss challenges each week, documenting key takeaways – and the evolution of our thinking – as a means to move the ball forward.  Have a look at our collaboration space (our wiki) to get an idea.

If this approach seems novel, we’d agree.  Most self-organizing communities use a birds of a feather model, coming together to discuss and share common practices.   In contrast, we come together to discuss our differences, to learn from them and to highlight our wins.  We think we’re onto something.  Each week for the past two years, the K12 ECOSYS discussion group has been meeting via Twitter chat (hashtag: #ecosys) to brainstorm our approach for unpacking K12 challenges.

Follow the links and the people of ECOSYS to learn more.

Our problems are significant, but they’re also close to home.  In the end, it’s about priorities.  Our kids need our help.  Connect.  Engage.  And welcome to ECOSYS.

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