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Systems Thinking and the Value of Cultivating Community

By Christy Durham, Sycamore’s Head of School

Systems Thinking. At Sycamore, we have enshrined this term as an integral part of our pedagogy. To put it simply, systems thinking is the understanding that every system is made up of parts, each part has distinct attributes and relationships, and each part has the ability to impact the system, both positively and negatively. The world is made up of systems - a soccer team, an ecosystem, and students in a school are just a few examples. Being aware of these systems lets us think critically about how we interact with our surroundings. It is imperative that school leaders recognize and nurture every part of their system, which includes the students, the faculty and staff, the families, and even the surrounding community.

A mantra I have been using for most of my career is that “education is a team sport.” More often than not, relationships in schools are between students, parents, and teachers. At Sycamore, we believe that every member of our community should be connected and valued. We understand that each part of our system plays a role in nurturing our students. Our ‘Systems Thinking’ toolkit is just the right model to demonstrate why everyone involved in education, from parents to teachers to students to administration and staff, should feel a sense of community and belonging in order to best support our students. Every member of the Sycamore community has unique abilities and perspectives, and each one of us utilizes these to make a positive impact and contribute to the growth and development of the children we serve. We believe that a healthy and robust school system means that we all work together in order to achieve the best outcomes.

This year, we are working to re-establish a sense of community after the impacts that the COVID restrictions had on our sense of community. For the past several years, we have not been able to welcome parents on to campus. Most of our connections were limited to emails, phone calls, or Zoom meetings. When we were able to gather, we were physically distanced and hidden behind masks. We lost touch with each other a bit. As a nation, most people recognize the impacts this had on our students, but we sometimes fail to remember that it, in fact, impacted the entire school system.

There are many ways, big and small, that we are working on to re-establish and build back our connectedness. As a staff, we had professional development meetings about our “Why” and how the core values of each staff member help to positively contribute to Sycamore. Our parent support group, Friends of Sycamore, is working hard to provide many opportunities for families to connect with each other. New events like our afternoon cohort playdates and “party book” events are giving our community a chance to gather, connect, and bond. Our parents share their expertise and passions with our students through activities such as cooking, reading, etc. We are also excited to reinvigorate some of our favorite annual events like the El Capitan family glamping weekend or our annual Thanksgiving soup event.

We look forward to embracing every part of our system and fostering the relationships between all of those parts. The System’s Thinking toolkit is a powerful tool we share with our students. It is also a powerful tool to guide us as we seek to reconnect as a community!


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