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Optimization and System Thinking in Education

Optimization and System Thinking in Education

“Those who oppose change will try everything to discourage you.” Robert E. Knowling

Some people in the world resist alteration whereas some others are currently struggling to adapt to those changes. A very small portion of them are quite at ease compared to these two groups. Who are they you ask? The ones who started the change.

Without a doubt, one of the sectors that are effected the most by the changes in the world is education. The weird thing is, according to the researches, education field is one of the most resisting sectors against any change, along with the people who are employed in this sector.

Let alone changing a few jobs, futurists predict that people will switch between 4-5 professions within their work life of 40-50 years. But how is this possible? Of course with the possibilities that the technology provides. Thanks to the distance education and seminars, people could obtain sufficient qualification to realize these professions without having to graduate from a higher education of four years. And in a short period of time such as six months, they could meaningly include the information they have learned to their lives. One of the biggest indicators of this is that nowadays, most people work in different fields than their primary professions.

The key to success in a world that changes so fast is “optimizing” yourself or the corporations you are affiliated with.

According to Tamer Dövücü, optimizing means “making it most appropriate” and it happens in four phases such as; protecting which are not required to be changed, improving what you do well (total quality management), excluding bad behaviors and bringing in new solutions (innovation).

If we take optimization into consideration on the basis of individual. The things that shouldn’t change in our lives are our core values. Like love, respect and trust. For example, if one of an individual’s core value is honesty, he/she will not tolerate someone that lies.

Example of improving what you do well could be someone learning efficient presentation techniques even though he/she can give a speech to an audience easily.

Trying to get rid of their addictions or fears could be given as an example to excluding bad behaviors.

Acquiring new habits could be considered as quitting smoking and starting to work out, taking part in life more actively to get away from their anxiety and investing in themselves by going to various courses and classes. These are a few good examples of self innovation.

“Optimization” is one of the indispensable notions for educational institutions.

To be able to realize optimization in educational institutions, one must have great knowledge of the systems. Systems work in two ways as; cyclical and linear.

If the systems are cyclical and one of the parts in the system is indispensable, it works with multiplication method. Lets think of a cyclical system of teacher- student and teaching method, as an example. If we are to give points to each of them out of 10, we get 9x8x8=580 points. But when one of them is zero, others are equal to zero as well. 9x8x0=0

As Senge mentions in his book ‘Fifth Discipline’, this proves us that the whole is more than the sum of its parts.
Linear systems on the other hand work in addition method. For example, each of the grammar subjects in Turkish language form the addition function.

Similarly, human body forms of many systems such as digestion system, nerve system etc. coming together. You might have hair loss but you still continue your life. This is an addition function. But if we take away your kidneys, the result is certain as you know.

A good educational manager must not overlook the “multiplier factors”. These factors could be the core values the institution possesses, as well as one or some of the people in the staff. Which means “No one is irrepleacable.” argument is not always true.

Besides, according to the third rule of optimization, we have to get rid of the useless things in good time. “Rule out the bad ones!”

Generally, problems are caused by perceiving the cyclical systems as linear systems. Those who consider the system as it forms of additions think that they will achieve a notable improvement when they change a part of it; but these solutions usually not work. The real solution is constantly improving the factors.

Erdoğan Yılmaz classifies the factors that form the education as follows:
1. People who own the same roles (teachers, managers, guides and the family)
2. Social – cultural values (relations in the education environment)
3. Tangible infrastructure (physical structure, environment, appliances)
4. Philosophy of the education (goals, programs, methods)
If we take this as a cyclical system, the student will be in the middle of all that. Ultimately, everything exists for the “student”.

If we don’t consider the problems that we face in educational institutions within the system integrity, we will just create frustration.

Erdoğan Yılmaz summarizes this in his “Looking at the Education with System Thinking” article: “Even though having a few “good” teachers, an “excellent” manager or “perfect” physical environment are individually good, it is not enough to reach the goal. The important thing is the coherence and function of these parts in harmony and balance. “

The magic word here is “balance”. Especially in cyclical systems, having the multiplier factors that form the system in balance will bring success in all fields. When the balance is lost, the system will consume itself and this is one of the most dangerous things to occur.

When we are able to create learning organizations, we prevent systems from consuming themselves and get closer to solutions. Thus, I am of the opinion that one must internalize the five-point recipe that Peter Senge recommends for creating learning organizations.

What are these?

First one is spreading the individual expertness. According to Senge, people who possess individual expertness constantly live like a student. For them, learning never ends. Thus, individual expertness is not a skill or an information, it is a process. Individual experts are aware of their weak and strong aspects. Thus, they always have full confidence in themselves.

Second one is to be aware of our mental models. Qualified as metamodels in NLP, mental models are the thought patterns that form us. There are nearly 50 metamodels that are discovered thus far. For example, some people are mission-oriented and some others are relation-oriented. The educational manager must accurately detect who are mission oriented and who are communication-oriented. Because it is better for upper tiers to be communication-oriented and lower tiers to be mission oriented.

The third is to create a shared vision. Every individual that work in educational institutions must know well about the vision of the institution and this vision must not contradict with their personal vision. Committing to this vision with passion is also required to bring success. According to Senge, if there’s a shared vision, there will be commitment rather than “culture of compliance”. Commitment encourages pushing the limits, experimenting and innovation to reach the common goal.

Fourth one is learning as a team. Senge states that common learning will start when team members set aside their assumptions and start common thinking process and this will transform into a common movement later on.

The last one which combines all previous four articles and names the book ‘the fifth discipline’ is approaching the questions with system thinking. Which means seeing the whole instead of its parts, in other words; seeing the big picture.

Ultimately, education is a cyclical system. As it is cyclical, innovation of all multipliers that form the cycle, possess vital importance for the continuity of the system. When we understand the systems right, not overlook the balance factor and optimize ourselves as well as the institutions we work for, the success will be inevitable.

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