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“What the best and wisest parent wants for his child, that must we want for all the children of the community. Anything less is unlovely, and left unchecked, destroys our democracy.”

– John Dewey


Progressive educator John Dewey’s century-old sentiments are as timely as ever—and alive and well in the Wildwood Way.


Dewey’s vision echoes through Wildwood’s Systems Thinking partnership with LAUSD’s Palms Elementary School. Well into its 2nd year, our shared work is deepening students’ and teachers’ learning at both schools, along with providing opportunities for both public and private school teachers to collaborate and build their teaching practice together.


quoteblock_1Under the auspices of the Wildwood Outreach Center and made possible through generous grants by an anonymous foundation, teachers and students are learning from Dr. Barbara Moreno, an independent educational consultant. Barbara developed and honed her systems thinking practice as a classroom teacher at Open Magnet Charter School in Westchester. Barbara is working with all classes at Palms, as well as grades K-5 at Wildwood (she’ll roll-out the work with our specialist teachers next year).

A Systems Map from a Palms Elementary 2nd Grade class

A Systems Map from a Palms Elementary 2nd Grade class


Systems thinking tracks well with the Wildwood Way 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.


Wildwood and Palms students experience systems thinking in a variety of ways. In the earliest grades the systems they discover yield clues to their own school habits and behaviors, like raising hands before speaking and learning to make friends. 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 science, literature, and even their neighborhoods.


As students mature, so does their thinking. Fifth graders at Wildwood look at the interplay between human quoteblock_2systems in American history—for example the systems of slavery and resistance in the Colonies. Palms 5th graders discover and navigate the leadership systems within the Los Angeles Unified School District, as their analysis of food waste in LAUSD’s Breakfast in the Classroom program has led them to petition the appropriate district leaders to review the program.


Wildwood and Palms Teachers Collaborate at a November Meeting

Wildwood and Palms Teachers Collaborate at a November Meeting

As part of our partnership, every Palms Elementary teacher has visited Wildwood this autumn, observed classrooms, and met with their Wildwood grade-level counterparts—sharing systems thinking ideas, best practices, and plans for future collaborative work. Wildwood’s K-5 teachers will return the visits this coming winter, to observe and learn from their public school colleagues.


To document and validate the systems thinking work at Wildwood and Palms, researchers from Chapman University continue to study its implementation at both schools—looking specifically at how the approach affects student and teacher learning, conversations, and perceptions.


Our Systems Thinking partnership with Palms reflects Wildwood’s commitment to grow our own program, incorporating the newest and best research and methods—as well our responsibility, through the Wildwood Outreach Center, to work toward educational equity in Los Angeles.


Anything else is unlovely.


By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach

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