Liberating education: realizing potentials through systems thinking and conscious leadership
Educational systems must teach students the thinking skills necessary to navigate our complex world (Forrester, 1994; McDermott, 2012; Mitchell, 2013; Powell, 2010). The education system in the United States fails to value the critical thinking skills necessary to produce innovative leaders and to promote equity and antiracism (Forrester, 1994; McDermott, 2012; Mitchell, 2013) (Freire, 2020; Powell, 2010). Current educational practices have placed an increasing emphasis on math, science, and English as single-discipline silos that align to high stakes state assessments. Statewide testing scores are being used to compare and evaluate educators and school districts. School districts commonly target curriculum and instruction to improve prior test results. This approach fails to value the importance of applying knowledge across the curriculum through critical thinking. Past attempts to teach thinking skills, through systems thinking, have not addressed the influences of an individual’s own internal process or belief system. Education systems must teach complex thinking skills as an analytical synergy, applied both internally and externally, in order for students to become innovative, conscious leaders (Fisher, A., 2020; Freire, 2020; Senge, 2006). Applying critical thinking, we can examine systems to expose the processes that produce inequities and oppressive outcomes. In these ways, critical thinking can be used to examine both internal beliefs and external environments to promote equity and antiracism (Freire, 2020; Powell, 2010). Critical thinking skills are essential educational skills. These critical thinking skills are most essential as the world continues to grapple with the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, issues of racism, economics, and challenges from abroad. This dissertation of practice asks: How will a co-created professional development program, centered on systems thinking and conscious leadership, affect participants’ recognition of internal and external influences in personal and professional decision making in confronting complex challenges? The researcher completed a knowledge review and conducted a co-created professional development program with prior students who are now young adults and have past experience with a systems thinking approach to learning. This research found that the combination of systems thinking and conscious leadership, within a co-created space, provides the structures for a more deliberative and equity-focused thinking process, which takes time to learn, pushes against the grain of typical learning paradigms, produces tension that functions as a catalyst to learning, promotes equity and antiracism, resulting in critical consciousness.