Systems Thinking in School Communities
Project funded by W.K. Kellogg Foundation

The Systems Thinking in School Communities project worked to develop a model to scale the value of a systems thinking approach to school improvement, community engagement and student empowerment in preschool and elementary grades.
This project specifically targeted cohort groups of teachers, as well as district and community leaders in two different state regions: eastern Alabama and rural eastern Kentucky. Participants used systems thinking capacity to increase understanding of their systems and positively impact the outcomes systems produce.

Project Goals

  • Use systems thinking Habits and tools to think critically to solve complex problems
  • Apply systems thinking to instruction and assessment
  • Collaborate with peers to review student work
  • Self-assess personal systems thinking capacity development
  • Use systems thinking Habits and tools to assess the state of current systems
  • Apply systems thinking skills to define and clarify desired results
  • Create structures to help students achieve desired results


Over the three years of the project, Waters Center provided systems thinking capacity building for over 230 individuals in Alabama and Kentucky. It was particularly rewarding to see the depth of internal capacity that was built in each region. Both regions now have trained systems thinking facilitators who can provide ongoing capacity development in their respective regions. Highlights include:
  • Development of videos and lessons that are available electronically.
  • Recognition of coaching as an essential component of long-term capacity building.
  • Systems thinking has a very high degree of alignment with curriculum work being done in the school districts and Head Start programs.
  • Kindergarten readiness scores are higher for children who are in Head Start classrooms that use systems thinking strategies than those in classrooms that do not.
  • In classrooms that apply systems thinking strategies, educators report their students experience increased student engagement, deeper levels of thinking, improved engagement in conversation and an ability to communicate their own thinking visually.


Participants were asked to indicate the level of impact they observed as a result of using the Habits and tools of systems thinking in their classrooms. The chart below shows the percentage of respondents who rated the descriptor as having an impact.
Back to All Stories