Systems Thinking Resources

Following are links for school system leaders to information, tools and resources to help educators understand and use a systems-based approach in day-to-day activities and long-term planning.

AASA does not endorse the organizations or websites listed. Users must evaluate the accuracy, completeness or usefulness of any content on these sites.

Do you have a recommendation for an addition to this page? Send an e-mail with your suggestion to MaryAnn Jobe or call 703-875-0734.


Videos and Webcasts

Systems Thinking in Practice: How a Superintendent and Two Districts Applied a Model of Systems Thinking for Increased Student Achievement, an archived webcast from The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement. (2007)



Leading Emotional Systems in Educational Organizations (PDF): An excerpt adapted from “A Systems Approach to Issues in Educational Leadership” in Roundtable Viewpoints: Educational Leadership, McGraw-Hill, 2008, by Joyce Huth Munro.

"From Random Acts to a System of Safety and Security" (The School Administrator, January 2008)

Avoiding Death by a Thousand Cuts” (The School Administrator, November 2007)

"Moving as One in the Same Direction" (The School Administrator, June 2007)

"Lonely at the Top" (The School Administrator, April 2007)

Leadership Responsibilities and Practices (PDF): Outlines the correlations (or effects) of five responsibilities with mean district-level student achievement, brief descriptions of them and selected examples of the practices superintendents use to fulfill them. (Source: "School District Leadership That Works," McREL, March 2007)

"From Custodian to Conductor" (The School Administrator, March 2007)

"The Four-Quadrant Leadership Team" (The School Administrator, March 2007)

"System Problem or People Problem?" (The School Administrator, February 2007)

"Vitals for Change: Process, Benchmarking and Data" (The School Administrator, December 2006)

"Bureaucracies and Learning Organizations" (The School Administrator, October 2006)

"Systemic Improvement to Raise Achievement" (The School Administrator, August 2006)

"A Daily Dose of Continuous Improvement" (The School Administrator, May 2006)

"Confronting the Redesign of the Enterprise" (The School Administrator, March 2006)

"The Leader's Role in Reaching Universal Success for All" (The School Administrator, January 2006)

"Promoting a Management Revolution in Public Education" (PDF): From the Harvard Business School and Harvard Graduate School of Education, July 2005.



Baldrige National Quality Program
The Baldrige Award is given by the president of the United States to businesses — manufacturing and service, small and large — and to education and health care organizations that apply and are judged to be outstanding in seven areas: leadership; strategic planning; customer and market focus; measurement, analysis, and knowledge management; human resource focus; process management; and results.


Books and Other Publications

Publications from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills

Charting Your Course: Lessons Learned During the Journey Toward Performance Excellence by John G. Conyers, Robert Ewy

From Systems Thinking to Systemic Action: 48 Key Questions to Guide the Journey by Lee Jenkins

Improving Student Learning: Applying Deming's Quality Principles in Classrooms by Lee Jenkins

Leadership for Change, a white paper produced from the 2005 Superintendent of the Year Forum

Leading Change by John Kotter

Management of the Absurd by Richard Farson, Michael Crichton

Our Iceberg Is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions by John Kotter, Holger Rathgeber

Permission to Forget: And Nine Other Root Causes of America's Frustration with Education by Lee Jenkins

Schools That Learn: A Fifth Discipline Fieldbook for Educators, Parents, and Everyone Who Cares About Education by Peter M. Senge

The Change Handbook: The Definitive Resource on Today's Best Methods for Engaging Whole Systems by Peggy Holman et al.

The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization by Peter M. Senge

The Innovation Paradox: The Success of Failure, the Failure of Success by Richard Farson, Ralph Keyes

The Manager's Pocket Guide to Systems Thinking and Learning by Stephen G. Haines

The Systems Thinking Approach to Strategic Planning and Management by Stephen Haines


Expert Advice


Systems Thinking 101

Systems Thinking for School System Leaders - An AASA Toolkit: This toolkit is designed exclusively for AASA members. It provides information, resources and tools to help build the leadership capacity of school superintendents and other school system leaders who are guiding the transformation of public education to meet the expectation of universal success for all children.


"Systems Thinking: A Superintendent’s Perspective" (Windows Media/QuickTime)
Hear from Don Phillips, superintendent of the Poway Unified School District in Poway, Calif., on his thoughts about the importance of systems thinking for superintendents.