Proceedings of the 59th Annual Meeting of the ISSS - 2015 Berlin, Germany, Vol 1, No 1 (2015)

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The Display/Pickup Paradigm and Practice: A Unifying Systemic Approach to School and Workplace Renewal

Susan Farr Gabriele


Public education, a wonderful creation of human society, is currently troubled by a cycle of increasing decline.  Ever-increasing demands leave educators less able to address their own student, school and district issues. So, school quality goes down, for a 19 + 1 = 18 effect.  That is: if school quality is 19, add a new demand (+1), school quality goes down to 18. Then, desperate new policies are mandated every year -– too quickly for schools to keep up.  Over three years, the process looks like 19 + 1 = 18 … 17 … 16.  This paper explains this increasing decline as caused by flawed practice built on flawed and conflicting assumptions. A systems approach yields improved assumptions in a new unifying DISPLAY/PICKUP paradigm for education and management. Corresponding theory and practices are proposed, with the goal that 19 + 1 = 20 … 21 … 22. 

The path to the new paradigm begins with a dramatic shift in agency--from teacher as agent to learner as agent. This shift is as dramatic and far-reaching as the earth/sun rotation paradigm shift in astronomy.  Whether behavioral laws and causes relate to gravity or human agency, both paradigm shifts here are proposed as hard science--a result of extensive empirical observation, rather than speculation. However, the shift in instruction/management theory is only a partial answer, typically resulting in two conflicting camps: those who propose that the leader is sole agent and must control the supervised vs. those who argue that the supervised are agents of their own learning/ performance and need total flexibility.

Boulding’s Nine-Level Typology of System Complexity clarifies how both control and flexibility are needed. Levels 1- 3 systems—frameworks, clockworks, and control systems—are Things (T), which can be predicted and regulated. Levels 4 – 7 are organisms, which are self-regulating and behave according to interiorly prescribed criteria, especially sophisticated in Level 7, people (P).  Levels 8 – 9 are social and transcendent systems with transient boundaries, while Levels 4 -7 boundaries are fixed.  Thus, Level 7 (individual human) needs are mandatory; Level 8 (organization) needs are optional. It follows that people must meet their personal needs before their organization needs.  Boulding’s nine system levels group neatly into three domains with different behavioral laws, resulting in TPO Theory (Things/technical; People/personal; and Outcomes/organizational).  This theory proposes that when Things (T) are designed/displayed to optimize pickup by People (P), the result is improved Outcomes (O).  Further, the key to organization health becomes the system’s adjustment capacities (cf. Boulding’s Level 3: “Thermostat”).  The Display/Pickup paradigm explains that leaders DISPLAY (T) subject matter, policy, procedures, and so forth. Learners/workers (P) acquire them by PICKUP, each at their own pace.

A corresponding new practice is the 30/30 RoundTable, an activity designed for 30 people to give and hear others’ views in 30 minutes.  The RoundTable adds no new demands because educators use it for their own purposes in their existing classrooms and meetings.  RoundTables are thus seeds for systemic renewal, defined as enrichment and transformation from within, where the agency lies. Corresponding systems design/redesign is then achieved at users’ own pace, by the users themselves, each within their own (sub)system. This allows for the almost infinite variability and complexity from system level to system level, and from system type to system type.  The RoundTable planted and flourishing, two new prongs/displays are gradually added for a three–pronged iterative activity at three entry points in the system: 1- 30/30 RoundTable (bottom-up); 2- TPO Thermostat (top-down); and 3- Triple-Bottom-Line or 3BL (in -out - in) or current goals/outcomes - 3BL holistic/comprehensive goals - revised goals/intended outcomes.

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