Our new partnership with Palms Elementary is off the ground, and designed to introduce our public school neighbors to Wildwood’s curricular approach of systems thinking.
Over the past academic year systems thinking has been incorporated into Wildwood’s Pods and Grade 2 classrooms. It’s a way of thinking and learning that tracks with Wildwood’s philosophy, by explicitly acknowledging the intricate webs of natural and human systems that connect us all. The approach has made an impact on the way that our youngest students view their learning, and their world.
Now, thanks to a generous grant from a private foundation, and with support from The Wildwood Outreach Center, over the next three years teachers from Wildwood’s elementary campus will deepen their application of systems thinking in their classrooms alongside their public school teaching peers at Palms Elementary.
LA Unified’s West Area district leadership supports piloting systems thinking in its elementary schools and identified Palms, just three miles from our Elementary campus, as the best candidate to begin this partnership with Wildwood.
As a first step, eight Palms educators visited our elementary campus recently to see how Wildwood teachers implement systems thinking into their students’ learning.
“This is an unusual and exciting connection between our two schools,” Wildwood’s Director of Elementary School, Katie Rios, tells the Palms teachers. “And,” Katie emphasizes, “there is so much that our teachers can learn from you as we work together in the coming years.”
Guiding both Wildwood and Palms teachers’ learning is Dr. Barbara Moreno, an independent educational consultant who spent decades as a classroom teacher at Open Magnet Charter School in Westchester. There, she and her teaching partner—and current LA Unified Regional Instructional Director, Judy Utvich—pioneered systems thinking with their young students. Now, at Wildwood and Palms, Barbara will directly guide the teachers over the next few years—helping them apply systems thinking in their classrooms and deepening their practice.
“Systems thinking can change behavior,” Barbara says, “because it provides kids with a language to articulate their responsibilities to their fellow humans, not just out there in the world, but right here in the classroom.
Elementary age students experience systems thinking in a variety of ways. Initially the systems they discover yield clues to their own classroom habits and behaviors, like raising hands before speaking and working quietly with their peers. Students use the approach as a way of understanding how and why their classrooms serve everyone’s needs, safely and effectively. They also use systems thinking to connect their learning about transportation to climate science and global warming.
To document and validate the systems thinking work at Wildwood and Palms, researchers from Chapman University will study its implementation at both schools. These academics will be looking specifically at how the approach affects student learning and achievement in all subject areas.
During their visit to Wildwood, the Palms teachers reflected on the significant potential that systems thinking can have for their students and for invigorating their own teaching. One comment I heard: “This reminds me of the freedom that we used to have in the classroom,” says Palms 5th grade teacher, Debbie Breeding, “before standardized testing took over.”
We formed this partnership because we know the approach has worked to benefit students’ learning at Wildwood, and can enrich the experiences of teachers and students at Palms, and other public schools as well.
At the end of the three-year pilot program, Wildwood and Palms teachers will collaborate to develop a curriculum and teach a summer systems symposium through the Wildwood Outreach Center. This will launch the spread of systems thinking to a broader range of schools, both public and private, here in Los Angeles–and beyond.
~ By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach