The importance of parents and teachers understanding systems thinking

The importance of parents and teachers understanding systems thinking
Photo by Robert Guss on Unsplash

Feeling inspired by an article by Leyla Acaroglu so I felt compelled to share how powerful systems thinking is for helping parents and teachers to better support children with developmental differences (children not making the same progress in certain skills).

We start our training sessions about our learning framework with a systems thinking explanation.

Every session.

Because at the heart of every challenging behaviour or difference in developmental progression, is a system.

It’s critical to understand the power that tiny changes in a system can have on the overall progression of that system. For us, this is the relational system between adult and child.

So, we start with a shower analogy.

We invite our audience to share their “best shower experience”. Then explore all the variables that can contribute to the achievement of this experience or a less-than-optimal shower outcome.

As a group, we recognise individual differences in our personal systems.

We acknowledge personal preferences.

We quickly recognise how factors outside of our control impact our experience and the steps we need to take to address this impact (“who is using the water - I’m in the shower!!!!)

So it opens up an understanding of why behaviourist approaches do not help children make progress with skill development and regulation. Rewards and consequences simply fail to accommodate the dynamic systems in play.

First, the developmental system of the child.

Then the interconnected system of the adult and child.

Then the consequences of past and future actions and events on those two systems.

It’s complex and highly variable. But the beauty of seeing the systems, is that systems offer us amazing positive consequences:

Leverage — applying just enough (not too many) changes in the system can have large impacts.

Positive feedback loops — as one small element of the system changes further positive changes in the system can occur.

Escalation — as more people share and experience the positive outcomes the more people embrace seeking to understand the system in action.

So we train people to understand just 5 elements of a child’s system. We explore how to start with the switches in the right order essential to support regulation and learning. We map out cumulative impacts on a child’s system and their interconnection with adults in their life. We modify some variables and measure the systemic impact.

It’s a simple model.

It is having powerful impacts on the families we work with.