Diverse Systems, External Conditions, and Edupreneurism

Katherine Curry and Ed Harris

When we refer to schools as “systems,” our minds may be immediately drawn to the idea of a traditional school district. Typically, a school district consists of buildings organized by grade levels with teams of teachers leading classrooms full of same-age students in their respective grade levels. Although a traditional school district is, indeed, an example of a school system, 21st Century educational systems vary tremendously across the United States. Whatever “system” in which you may be, it is important to incorporate edupreneur mindset in ensuring all parts of the system are working to create the benefits you desire for your constituents.

Diverse Educational Systems

In our current educational context, a system may include any of the following examples:

  • a single classroom with one teacher facilitating student learning
  • a complex organization consisting of several schools, housing hundreds of students, across multiple campuses
  • an online learning community of just a few learners or even hundreds of learners
  • a network of schools joined by a unifying philosophy or educational approach
  • (Please see our Sample School Models and Budgets).

Regardless of the size, composition, or organization of these systems, all schools operate with a purpose centered upon enhancement of student learning and creating value for all constituents. All schools also utilize practices and procedures to reach their goals.  These practices and procedures work together to influence the intended outcome and fulfill the organizational goals of the school.

Applying Systems Thinking to a Single Classroom

A classroom is a system consisting of many parts: teachers, students, facilities, curriculum, technology, etc. In a single classroom, resources are needed to facilitate learning. These resources can include:

  • A qualified teacher
  • Textbooks
  • Technology
  • Student desks
  • Facilities

Understanding the ultimate goals of the system will help us to define the resources that are needed to achieve organizational goals. For example, if our outcome goal is to encourage students to integrate technology into their learning, we will need to be certain that the teacher we employ is skilled in technology and that we have the technological resources available to meet our end goal. If our end goal is language acquisition through an immersion model, we will want to be certain that our teacher is fluent in that language and that we have resources to support student learning of a second language.  Additionally, the types of resources invested into the system will influence the “way things are done” (activities) at the school. For example, technological resources may allow us to offer a hybrid, or blended learning, approach with some instruction offered online.

External and Internal Conditions

Additionally, because a systems approach considers influences both inside and outside of the organization, community context including community interests, needs, resources, and economic conditions may influence the outcomes of our organization. They also might influence the goals of the organization, resources available, and the types of activities that we employ to reach educational goals.  In sum, effective leaders understand efficiencies that can be accomplished by matching resources, activities, outputs and outcomes and by considering external forces that influence student learning.

  • How has the external factor of your state’s “economic conditions” effected student learning in your school system?
  • How has economic conditions effected your school’s activities? Its outputs? Its outcomes?
  • As an edupreneur, how can your school be successful in spite of fluctuating economic conditions?


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  1. gardner.julia

    As oil hits a negative price per barrel today, consideration of economic impact on public education in Oklahoma seem particularly urgent. Outputs for schools can be boiled down to statistics of test scores and graduation rates, but real success hinges on the ability of our students to contribute to the larger community as productive citizens. Each of these measures of student success will affected by cuts to school funding from the outside, deficits in family resources from quarantine measures on the inside, and most certainly mental health concerns for families and faculty.

    Systems thinking about this problem will require a multi-frame approach for school leaders. In some ways we have already been forced to rethink our systems as we attempt distance learning. Perhaps we can look at innovations from a structural perspective to give students access to technology resources. A consideration of the school “family” from the human resources frame with be important for social emotional and mental health. The political frame will be useful in considering how to distribute the scarce resources available in times of economic downturn, and now, more than ever, teachers, students, and families will need rituals and symbols to rally behind.

    • tasheika

      i agree with you. I keep talking with my educator buddies about how we are being pushed out of comfort zone and maximizing the use of all the resources we have in front of us.This will help us to maintain an ethical distance educational experience for learners.

  2. vavh711

    Our state must diversify our income and one would think that after all of oil’s ebbs and flows Oklahomans have suffered through, our legislators would make a more concerted effort to create some type of stability. Because of what’s happening to the oil market, I fear the cuts that will face due to the budget shortfall. It’s hard to facilitate learning when there is not enough or no money to supply the needs of the classroom. This pandemic has shone a light on the many equity issues facing the students that shuffle in or log on to our classrooms, and the budget affects so much more than just schools. We need edupreneurs that are actively engaged in politics to help influence the need for proper school funding, while also coming up with ideas to generate income. I suppose this is much easier to critique than fix due to our multiple realities.

  3. tasheika

    The current economical strain has impacted our educational system in so many different ways. It is true that this is our new normal for some time to come. Now more than ever it is import that we take advantage of every opportunity to supply and inform our educators of the resources that are available to substain the quality of education that our organization has set forth to provide students. I have noticed that many roles are changing with in organizations: for example, younger teachers that are more up to speed with technology are making themselves available to more seasoned educators to help prepare for Distance education.In spite of the economical conditions, this is good for the structure and human resources of the organization. This builds relation ships and also compounds on the knowledge that is put into the collaboration of sometimes two totally different teaching styles.

    For many educators Distance education is un-chartered water when it come to preparing for your students. As an administrator, maintaining the mission and vision of the organization has to be maintained through insuring that educators are okay with this teaching style and producing sub-stainable information for students educational needs.

    So many students have been effected by this economical issue. It is imperative that organizations and educators are flexable and responsive to students issues and needs during this time. It is important to continue to encourage students. Not only students, but as an administrator… not forgetting that your educators also need you and the organization to be flexable and aware of their needs as employees and as human beings.

    I think this is a time were new rituals and or symbols will be built as COVID-19 spirals or the best efforts are put forth to gain control. Creating “the new normal” opposed to what “things have always been” will take a turn for more 21st century learning and leadership.

  4. Katy Horton

    As Oklahoma educators, we know exactly how economic conditions affect our school systems. We see it every day, across the state, that our funding and resources pale in comparison to other states. This has an impact on student performance when compared nationally and globally. Schools that can fundraise in their districts can provide additional resources that can add amazing value to a child’s education.

    However, despite fluctuating economic conditions, leaders can continue to build up a positive, caring, and academic environment fit for the 21st century. When looking at issues through a multiframe approach, leaders can navigate and creatively problem solve varying conditions to continue educating children for the world tomorrow. The biggest resource for children in school is a loving and caring teacher. If leaders build a team of diverse strengths where all four frames are in focus, school climate and culture will outweigh physical resources.

  5. Sam Allen

    Our state relies heavily on the oil business and many people in politics are backed by some of these oil companies and people. Yesterday oil went into the negative per barrel. This greatly affects our schools and students. Especially our district because most of our money to pay for teachers and personnel comes from the state and not local. This will affect use greatly. There is rainy day money out there to help with this but it won’t necessarily be going to education. Students are to go to school to become good and productive citizens of our society. It will be difficult to help these students to become productive citizens if we are lacking funding for them. We need the money for these students so that the students have the things that they need in order to be successful in school and learn the best that they can.

    All schools have had to look at their systems and rethink what they are doing. The structural frame has been redone because the objectives are different now for the students and teachers. The students aren’t doing any new work just review and the teachers are doing it either digitally or through paper packets.

    I feel like now we are using the symbolic frame more than ever. We are using this frame to show what it means to be a Wardog or your schools mascot. We keep using this over and over to say hey we will adapt and get through this together. We are in it together and we got this!

  6. edperryforeal

    My school has been losing allocations for teachers for some time. My principal is creative with budgeting, so she finds a way to use Title 1 funds to pay for nine teachers and staff in our school. However, this is money that should be used to drive technology, curriculum, and leadership in our school. The burden of creativity and innovation in administration, at least in my opinion, should not be choosing whether or not 36 students to a classroom is too many and what should be done to remedy the problem. Creativity should be used to facilitate student learning through a combination of the many different necessities mentioned in this blog, but instead is only focused on one aspect, a qualified teacher. On both a district and state level, it’s about time that decision makers realize that when it comes to education, just like nearly every other aspect of life, you get what you pay for. Fortunately for our school and district, my principal is able to “set goals and policies under conditions of uncertainty.” (Bolman and Deal, 310). It’s just unfortunate that the uncertainty comes from the system itself.

  7. quinn

    I read a tweet @AustinChadwick “In Oklahoma…100% of the people I have seen who disagree with any re-opening of the economy does not have their financial livelihood at stake. And 100% of the people I have seen who agree with re-opening, absolutely have their financial livelihood at stake.”

    So for me that puts the whole economic turmoil into perspective. There are parents out there worried about their financial livelihood, and that is where I can step in as a teacher to help take the school stress off their plates with distance learning. Even when we get back into the classrooms we need to be aware there will still be families trying to recover from this pandemic economically. Which should be brought up by our administrators during our August back to school PD kickoff. We can really hone in as a staff and show how much the district cares about not only the students but their families as well. We need to all be on the same page coming out of this because it is going to take time to bounce back.

  8. Amy Eikenberry

    The economic challenges are heavily apparent for education right NOW. COVID-19 has put a large strain on our economy and has created difficulties in many homes. This reading mentioned “understanding the goals of the system will help us to define the resources that are needed to achieve educational goals.” In my school district, I have actually watched our educational goals shift due to the different challenges that many families, including teachers, are facing. Distance learning became an immediate solution for education and therefore the goals needed to shift instantly to providing each family with a means to engage in instruction from home. In addition to that, a primary focus was training teachers on the ways that they will continue to teach from their computers and interact with students daily to continue to provide a quality education. It’s such an interesting time to observe and be a part of education in my opinion because we have gotten to see how the educational organizations respond to crisis, and how students, families, teachers, and administrators are still supported.
    Outside of COVID-19, the economy will always impact our public school funding. However the economy is not something I can generally change as an individual. As a school leader we will have the influence to create a school environment and organization that promotes success for students and teachers no matter the funding or economic hardships of the time. With a multiframe lens, teachers and administrators can use their strengths to support each other and build a culture in a school that works with whatever is provided to support students in their growth and achievement. I have become more aware of the frames that I tend to lean towards in leadership. I think this is important because it will help me to build a team around me that can bring diverse perspectives to the table and ensure that all needs are met and systems are effective in the school building.

  9. Sean McKinney

    As we attempt to recover from the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the public school system, it will be more important than ever to look at our current situation from a multiframe viewpoint. In a time of distance learning, school leaders will have to be innovative in analyzing the situation from a standpoint of the school family (human resource frame) as well as new structural elements that must be considered to help with social distancing (structural frame). In addition to this, leaders will need to consider how to develop a school culture that can withstand these difficult times to promote a sense of belonging and togetherness in this climate (symbolic frame). Is the way things have been done working, or do we need to make major infrastructural changes to modify our educational model to be more flexible and adaptable?

    This, in conjunction with the results of a catastrophic drop in oil prices might necessitate changes in our schools going into the 2020-2021 school year. A previous superintendent once told me that the public schools will typically see a roughly 3-month delay in an oil price fluctuation and the actual financial impact it will have on tax income to the schools. As a result, we may not see the full reality of this financial situation for the schools until July or August. I am very interested to see how our leaders choose to navigate the uncharted waters we are all heading into now that this situation is reaching is full potential.

  10. chanda1908

    As I think to how many teachers we are constantly losing on a yearly basis, the economy we are experiencing now is not going to help alleviate that problem. We always look to the number of positions we cut each year in teacher positions, but what about those other positions, like counselors, college/career advisors, etc? Right now, in my district, hiring is frozen and we are in need of filling a position within my office. Interviews have continued, but applicants have been informed of the situation Covid-19 places the district in. It will be really interesting, and daunting, to see how funding is affected and how it impacts our schools for the 2020-2021 school year.

    No matter what happens, it is our responsibility, as educators, to create the best possible learning environment for our students. Looking at this through a multi-frame lens,as leaders we should be able to be rational, emphasize the importance of community within the schools,be conduits of change, and provide vision and aspiration to those who need it the most.

  11. hlaunius

    In Oklahoma we know how external factors can affect learning. When education budgets were cut and then over years never refunded to what they needed to be, we as teachers, and leaders had to become creative with what we had. We are now facing uncertainty again as our state’s economy takes another hit from the current pandemic, and oil crash. We are asking our selves what does this mean for us? Will we see more emergency certification? We already have large class sizes, will they become larger? This is a problem that we will have to wait to see what the new fiscal year brings and how deep the cuts will be before we can really say how this will affect student learning at Union. In the past we have always been able to rely on a great finance department that kept our classrooms and schools functioning and learning while our teachers kept rigor and expectation high.

    As an edupreneur, I will have to rely on the four frames to help me, as well as my department and our students to get through any economic changes coming. We have already shown how we can go from in classroom to distance learning quickly and I am confident that we will face any changes the future may bring. The current changes have brought anxiety and insecurity but through the frameworks we will make it through. The last section of our textbook provided many perspective on how we move forward. On a political side we will have to know that conflict will arise and provide an arena for negotiating differences. From a symbolic side, the Union Way will help get us through. The human resource perspective will get us through because as teachers I think all we know how to do is love. Love for our students, love for teaching, love for learning, and love for our colleagues. Then of course symbolically, its Union, we have the Union Way and those traditions, values, and symbols will bring our community together just as it always has.

    I think more important, our communities need to accept our loss and grieve. We have lost so much the last month that it is going to take time to recover and we will need to allow ourselves to grieve. It sounds odd to say grieving the loss of the school year, the chance to wish my students the best, and the opportunity to see my seniors walk across the stage, but it is a loss that will need to be grieved to avoid unnecessary cycles of unresolved loss.

  12. Jason Riggs

    Having leaders and employing teachers with a growth mindset is more vital now than ever. The article mentions the various parts of the classroom. Due to economic features, the consistency and dependability of having these resources can vary. Recently, some teachers are trying to deliver the same service in a drastically different environment, with the same goals as before (if not more). Many educators across the world now are flexing their eduprenuer muscle as teachers adapt and deliver instruction in ways we haven’t before. The economy will continue to be a major factor as districts now must reassess how dollars are used as the needs of all students have the potential to shift without warning.

    Leading with a multi-frame lens is crucial in this unexpected landscape. Not only to adjust and adapt to unforeseen changes and trends, but also to reach the myriad of needs of your stakeholders and to communicate the vision effectively. A clearly communicated vision allows each system to articulate their individual mission in order to support the goals of the organization.

  13. laurenstauffer

    Our state’s economic condition has a significant impact on public schools in Oklahoma. As oil prices plummet, the public schools’ budget decreases. Important programs that focus on engagement, learning, and social skills are cut because schools have to weigh which programs are the most important to the majority of the students the school district serves. For example, music and art programs will more than likely be cut over terminating a math or English teacher due to state standards and graduation requirements. Paying teachers to lead clubs and organizations, provide after or before school tutoring, and other stipend related activities would decrease causing our high need students to look elsewhere for support or not receive any support at all. Graduation rates have been tied to extracurricular activities. When those activities are cut, students may not be as motivated to do well in school diminishing their academic success.

    Even in a “good” year economically, schools have lacked proper funding to lower class sizes, hire and retain highly-qualified teachers, and provide schools with proper supplies like textbooks, student desks, and technological resources. The school districts have learned to adapt and do the best they can regardless of the monetary support it takes to optimize student achievement. For years, class sizes have been high because there is no money to hire more teachers within school districts and we all know that lower class sizes would enhance student success.

    Schools can be successful, regardless of the economy, by using the four leadership frames. Using the structural frame, leaders need to communicate with their staff concerning changes, clarify roles, and focus on the facts of what we have to work with to meet our goals. Using the human resource frame, leaders need to ensure their teachers have a voice in how to be successful. Leaders need to support and empower their staff, listen to their concerns, and encourage inclusion and participation. Using the political frame, school leaders need to advocate to the government about school funding. They also need to be able to delegate the money they do have to different departments successfully. The symbolic frame can be used to instill a sense of purpose and pride for the staff. Using rituals, ceremonies, and symbols, leaders can motivate employees by confirming school values and instilling a positive culture.

  14. brockbr13

    As the current state of the nation has changed how we educate students at this time, it is important to see what gaps there are in our school community. Serving in a very large district allows for a lot of diversity among each school. One school may have many parents that hold a professional job and use technology daily. However, in our school community, not many parents have jobs and if they do they do not need technology skills. This has posed a huge burden on our teachers as we have moved to distance learning. Teachers are not only trying to connect students to technology but also helping parents to navigate a new world of technology for them. These are new roads for everyone involved.

    This is where I believe a symbolic framework is needed. The teachers, students and parents all need to be inspired. They feel overwhelmed and incompetent at times. They need a school leader who is willing to create a symbol and mantra to unite them during this time. This type of leader is necessary as we voyage into worlds unknown to our community.

  15. jakethompson

    I have long been a proponent of online/distance learning, in which the student’s education can be facilitated whether they are in the classroom with the teacher or on the other side the world. There are too many quality online platforms that not only provide content but also track the student’s progress; additionally studies have shown that students using khan academy learn two times faster than in a traditional setting.

    As a parent, I watched my oldest son’s grades go from C’s and D’s before the COVID-19 school closure’s to A’s and one B. It could be argued that his teacher’s standards have been lowered in the wake of this chaos, but I don’t think that’s true. I think that most teachers teach the way they were taught, and the cycle has been repeating itself for generations with some tweaks here and there; but as a whole, it’s the same industrialized approach to education using smart boards and chrome books. In my son’s case, I think his grades have improved because he is able to knock out his assignments at his pace (1.5 hrs) and spend the rest of the day focusing on his individual interests (trumpet, and virtually landing a rocket on Mars).

    This current pandemic is a nightmare, there is no question about it; but it has also caused some dramatic paradigm shifts that could result in an all-around better way of doing life – education included.

  16. sraelawson

    Like many districts across Oklahoma, Bixby has encountered budget shortfalls. One way that Bixby has been able to not fall too far behind is due to the amazing community support. A group of community members started a campaign entitled Bridge the Gap. Bridge the Gap has worked tirelessly over the last several years to raise enough money to close the gap between what the school needs and the State offers. To date, Bridge the Gap has donated $535,000 to BPS. This extra funding is a tremendous help in helping BPS stay current with the demands of the 21 Century Classroom.

  17. kimberlymccallum

    Our principal keeps us very informed of the educational budget situation. He updates on a regular basis. Now he is telling us how much bleaker things look due to the Covid-19 situation. Knowing our staff, I feel the symbolic frame will be crucial in the recovery period to keep up morale. That will be an interesting situation for my school building as every administrator and leader is retiring this year. The new leader will have a challenge running with the current symbolic frame if s/he doesn’t look to some of those who have been in the building for a while.


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