Adaptive Capacity for Transforming Schools--and Other Systems

We believe that using principles of HSD to engage in Adaptive Action strengthens adaptive capacity of systems. In our experience, at the individual level, people who use Adaptive Action are better prepared to understand their challenges and adapt in an uncertain and emergent world. At greater scales, groups, teams, and organizations work together more effectively as they interact with each other and their environments by engaging in ongoing and multiple cycles of Adaptive Action.


In working with staff and students in school districts, we have seen professionals embed adaptive practice in their own teaching and learning, both individually and as team members across the system. We have also seen evidence that they develop skills and understandings necessary to work together toward system-wide change.

School reform in US schools has largely been about measuring outcomes for students, reorganizing systems and processes for adults, and engaging more voices in shared decision making. Reform was built around changing activities that engage people--new programs, new structures, new relationships. While there have been some pockets of success, system-wide change for all learners has eluded our grasp as a country.

We have evidence suggesting that sustainability and learning in a system are not only about program or organizational activities that engage people. They are also about engaging people in deeper, more responsive ways. We believe that real systems change is only possible when we build capacity for informed decision making and action taking that respond to challenges faced by that particular system.

Over the past weeks I have engaged in Twitter conversations, in webinar discussions, in coffee-shop meetings, and in telephone sessions of coaching and conversation where we have focused on the potential for Adaptive Action to bring about real changes in our educational systems. A number of questions have come up, and here are a few. (It’s interesting to me that while these are focused on education, these questions could apply in any system.)

  • How do we come together to speak truth to each other safely and in ways that move us forward rather than in ways that divide us? (Both inside the educational system and between the educational system and the greater community)    
  • How do we create a safe and productive learning environment in the face of uncertainty and violence in the greater community?
  • How do we create a culture of inquiry and innovation that goes beyond the school walls in the face of increasing demands for measurable accountability?

What questions do you have? I invite you to engage with me in this online dialogue to talk these daunting challenges and how Adaptive Action might help us find new options for action. Respond to this post; create a post of your own; send a tweet. comment on LinkedIn or Facebook--I believe significant change is not possible unless and until we engage in deep inquiry and wise action about the patterns that challenge us most, limiting our ability to adapt and learn.

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