Systems Thinking Definition

The term “Systems Thinking” has an extremely wide variation of meanings.  It means very different things to different people.  This definition has been created by sorting through the vast array of information and thinking available on Systems Thinking and Continuous Improvement Theory, to establish a PRACTICAL and simple definition that can be used by educational leaders.


a philosophy of organizational management

Systems Thinking is a viewpoint, a perspective, a paradigm, a philosophy of organizational management theory (a set of beliefs, principles, structures and practices that explain the function, performance and behaviour of the elements of the organization and the individuals and groups within it).

There are MANY organizational management theories.  In our work of Schools as Learning Organizations and Systems Thinking School Improvement Initiatives we will look mainly at two organizational management theories:

  1. Scientific Management or the Industrial Model (because it is the model that best describes the model that is currently in place in virtually every school district in North America)
  2. Systems Thinking (because we believe it is the most viable alternative).

The importance and impact of understanding the theory of organizational management you are operating from, cannot be over-stated.  Everything we do in our daily work is driven by our underlying beliefs and values – those deeply embedded understandings and outlooks drive our behaviour our actions which in turn establish the policies, practices, strategies we use to lead and manage schools.

The Hypothesis of all of this work is simple:  If educational leaders shift the model of organizational management theory from the Industrial Model to a Systems Thinking Model, we will be far better able to deliver significant, sustainable, system improvement in student learning and well-being for all the children in our care.