Getting to purposes: The place of values in school design (hint–early and often)

Those who read my post on Ackoff, Magidson, and Addion’s Idealized Design last week, may have considered the first stage, formulation of the mess. Formulating the mess entails coming to a comprehensive understanding of the organization itself, how it operates, and what challenges it faces in light of its current structures and purposes.

For new school designers, who do not have systems to analyze, this is more challenging. New schools lack historical context and experience from which to formulate a vision of current reality in this way. This is not to say, however, that they should design without formulating a theory of schooling.

If a school design is to be successful, it must be based on a theory of schooling that represents an understanding of the realities of schooling now and in the future, the interests and beliefs the current and future constituents of the school, and the pedagogical principles that will best support student learning. A strong formulation of the mess leads to clear ends and a purposeful and effective mission.

School creators like the REAL Schools design team must make an initial set of decisions about how they will represent the mess of schooling and how they will direct their efforts towards resolving the mess. These decisions require determining organizational values—the core issues the organizational culture prioritizes with regards to the work.

All design decisions are values decisions the values designers hold shape the work of ends planning and the creation of an organizational mission and vision. Peter Senge (1990), famed systems theorist, describes the process of creating shared vision. He writes, “When there is a genuine vision…people excel and learn, not because they are told to, but because they want to” (p. 9).

As Senge details, a true vision of an organization’s future cannot be dictated, it must be adopted by the members of the organization in an ongoing and iterative process that is rooted in the basic values of the organization. The more explicit schools can be about their values, the more clearly they can define their purposes and the more powerfully they can execute these purposes.

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