Diverse Systems, External Conditions, and Edupreneurism


Katherine Curry
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?



  1. Jesi Morrison-Young

    As an edupreneur, how can your school be successful in spite of fluctuating economic conditions?

    I believe that in times like Oklahoma public education is currently experiencing, a leader has to prepare for the future. Right now, districts are still getting stimulus money as part of the pandemic recovery; leaders need to do what they can to use the funds to prepare for upcoming years where there may be far less money. I think to be a good leader, you have to have more than one leadership style. In Bolman and Deal GLOBE researchers identify several leadership styles, and all except the autonomous style seem beneficial to the organization.

  2. Sydney Silva

    It has been very interesting to witness the financial effects of Covid-19 on our school system. At the elementary level, we could not fundraise this year, hire additional support staff, or allow visitors/parents in the building to help fill those gaps. These effects have definitely impacted student learning. Teachers are spread even more thin and with no funding coming into their classrooms, they are spending more of their own money to care for their students and provide supplies. More students are coming to school hungry and without the necessary supplies, making learning more difficult. To combat these obstacles, we have altered our focus. For example, we have emphasized our school’s backpack nutrition program and found other ways to provide for our kids, like donations from local businesses.

  3. Chad Bailey

    How can your school be successful in spite of fluctuating economic conditions?
    My technology center receives its greatest revenue (approximately 87%) from ad valorem tax funding. The largest part of the remaining 13% does come from state funding. While that percentage is considerably lower than many public schools, a reduction in state funding does cause concern and conflict over limited financial resources. Nearly every year brings financial challenges associated with a reduction in property values or a new Governor with less appreciation for the CareerTech system and an eye on the dollars spent to fund it. Some years it can be both. Being able to handle financial fluctuations successfully is critical, no matter their cause or reason for being. According to the text, when resources become scarce, a human resource logic is the best fit. A highly unified school district that works together in the collaborative effort will be best suited to absorb and minimize the impacts of economic downturns. School leaders need the cooperation of all the school body’s members to survive tough times while minimizing their impact on student success.

  4. Malarie Cline

    Budget cuts for funding for education is nothing new, however, the pandemic has caused policymakers and analyst to be unsure of how to plan for the upcoming school year. We know there will be more severe challenges ahead to overcome. Due to a poor financial status, my school district has had to go through a RIF process and now technology is even questionable in the upcoming years. The school doesn’t know if they’ll be able to continue with 1:1 devices. My school is having to develop a new and cheaper way to track student progress due to not being able to afford the program we were using. As I’ve witnessed my mentor and other admins work through these times, it makes me think of what Bolman and Deal stated in the textbook, “They need multiple frames to survive.” As I reflect on the different frames and the processes that have taken place at my school, they have utilized each frame in different situations.

    Our school success will rely on the hard and devastating decisions our admins have made and will make. The RIF process was one of the hardest decisions for our admin. Some of the teachers that got let go were family friends, family, lifelong friends, etc… Being that we are in a small community it was hard for the admin to go through this. However, they have and are making decisions to ensure that this community has a school for students and to safeguard it’s financial status and get back on it’s feet.

  5. Stacey Goodwin

    Looking at a classroom as a system with various parts reminds me of Heifetz’s (1994) “going to the balcony” mentioned by Bolman and Deal (2017). As administrators, we need to be sure to consider the entire picture by taking time to see it from all perspectives. This view from above the problem allows us to pinpoint the problem or desired outcome so we can develop an appropriate action plan.

  6. Shareen Smith

    The external factors of economic downturns and state budget shortfalls that lead to cuts in education are frustrating for educators and educational leaders. It feels like we constantly have to fight for funding or to protect our funding. Prior to the walkout, I think many teachers were not regularly advocating for education with their legislators. Personally, I felt like education should not be political. But I realized when it comes to funding public education, everything is political. As Bolman and Deal (2017) state in the text “scarce resources and enduring differences put conflict at the center of day-to-day dynamics” (p. 184). State funding is limited and that scarcity creates competition. Bolman and Deal also say we cannot shy away from conflict. Educational leaders and teachers started building coalitions, negotiating, and advocating for a ‘seat at the table’ whether that was through the relationships they built with ‘agenda setters’ or by running for political office themselves after the walkout.

    Despite the fluctuations in funding, educational leaders must keep their focus on their goals and adjust the path to those goals as funding changes. When funding decreases, everyone in the school comes together to figure out how to continue to meet the needs of students and achieve the school vision. Understanding the community interest is always important but especially so when economic conditions are tough. Schools should build partnerships with the community and those partnerships can help supplement, whether through human resources or monetary resources, the economic cuts a school is enduring.

  7. Jessie Wright

    As the article mentions, an understanding of context is critical to successful planning and school operations. Additionally context can be important for decision-making and help determine how a leader goes about this process. Bolman and Deal (2017) support this idea through their use of varying frames to assess and promote change in an organization. Leaders select the appropriate frame to utilize in a given situation based upon the situation’s context. For example, what works well in a rural, single building school with a close knit faculty may not be appropriate for an urban school with eight different elementary sites. School leaders must work to deeply understand their school site, it’s culture, and the specific challenge being addressed, then match this with the appropriate frame or combination of frames. In turn, this versatility and understanding of context can promote successful school operations and effective leadership.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts