My brother and I were talking about social impact and I got on my high horse called Judgey McJudgeface about how we (society) apply shallow solutions to deep and complex problems (I generalise). My brother works in probation and I could tell he was applying some of his learned strategies on me which felt patronizing and I got even grumpier. However, he asked one question which brought it back into perspective for me. ‘What would happen if these organisations didn’t exist?’
In part there is jealousy playing a character in my thoughts when it comes to questioning
social impact. I’ve chosen a career that means I’m in a system where the recognition is usually a pat on the back from colleagues, possibly parents and mostly students – their drawings are my favourite. This always reaffirms the kaupapa and reasons for choosing the education profession far more than any accolade could. But, it does highlight an imbalance which has lead me to start exploring systems thinking and system change.
My background in systems thinking began in my early teaching days. I had Education for Sustainability advisors who introduced me to the EnviroSchools programme. This kaupapa is around creating a healthy, peaceful, sustainable world through people teaching and learning together. There is an action learning cycle at the centre of the programme which encourages student agency. It addresses change through four areas:
- People and Participation/Tangata
- Programmes/Kaupapa Ako
The entire programme runs on five guiding principles: empowered students, sustainable communities, learning for sustainability, Māori perspective and respect for the diversity of people and culture (The EnviroSchools Foundation, 2008).
Later, I discovered Green School Bali and had the opportunity to visit the school when I worked in China. I learned how they were incorporating social impact into the school through electives and had created programmes like LEAP Academy which can be described as a ‘social impact school within a school’ approach. As well, the school has a wall-less, holistic and balanced curriculum towards learning areas with a focus on project-based learning in the elementary area of the school.
These examples are great ways of going deeper in education to shift behaviour and mindsets to then attempt system change. However, I have seen them used poorly usually in the form of teacher-directed initiatives. When I begin to get judgey, I have to go back to my brother’s question – ‘what would happen if these organisations (initiatives in this case) did not exist?’
Recently, I came across a fantastic report by Daniela Papi-Thornton (2016) called Tackling Heropreneurship which addresses the concerns I have around barriers to systems thinking. These include:
- The glorification of the social entrepreneur/founder, how this overshadows other paths to impact and how we have set up education and funding models to direct this current focus.
- Solution-focused (and I’m going to add product evidence/accountability) education. There is an expectation to solve problems when students (and teachers) have not lived and do not understand the issues or the system. This can be as basic as students building success for themselves in a school environment. It can mean we unintentionally set people up regarding The Dunning Kruger Effect, which is when people fail to adequately assess their own competence or incompetence around their knowledge of a task or idea.
- Misguided views on how social change happens where the dominant idea is to scale organisations which minimise other collective impact movements. Most people perceive scaling up the organisation as creating bigger impact. Where social impact looks more like organisations collaborating and collectively creating change. Imagine smaller and more ‘schools’ as an idea?
Papi-Thornton (2016) goes onto share her ideas of ‘apprenticing with a problem’ where we can support students to find out what they care about and guide them to better understand the problem, examine potential solutions, gain experience through some form of apprenticing, understand and develop their core strengths and skills and then reflect on where they see their potential is to create change. This could be to go into and grow an organisation from an enterprise to government to an NGO as an intrapreneur (or teacherpreneur), or potentially go out and create a startup as examples. However, whatever the decision, it should be given equal weight and worth in society, and accolades should recognise the team effort not just the leader.
Papi-Thornton targets the tertiary level in her report, but I’m interested in what the building blocks could look like to support this thinking at a secondary, primary and early childhood level? It certainly indicates teachers taking on a facilitation role to support the lifelong learning process. What professional development is required to support this transition?
Being conscious of the Dunning Kruger effect, jumping on Judgey McJudgeface is not effective. Instead, I should acknowledge ‘the good’ organisations are making towards social impact and the slow shift towards collective system change that is happening. As my brother pointed out to me – imagine if these organisations didn’t exist? From an education perspective, let’s look at how we can introduce an ‘apprenticing with a problem’ approach and systems thinking to the way we educate.
The Enviroschools Foundation. (2008). Enviroschools Handbook. Hamilton, New Zealand: Fusion Print Group Ltd.
Papi-Thornton. (2016). Tackling Heropreneurship. Clore Social Leadership Programme. Retrieved from chrome-extension://ecnphlgnajanjnkcmbpancdjoidceilk/content/web/viewer.html?source=extension_pdfhandler&file=http%3A%2F%2Ftacklingheropreneurship.com%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2F2016%2F07%2Ftackling-heropreneurship-daniela-papi-June2016.pdf