Systems Thinking and the Educational System in #Manitoba #agile #teachers

As a father of two younger children, I am taking an increasing interest in the educational system. Saturday during my son’s hockey game, the parents were trading stories of how we were graded when we went to school.

I told the tale of how in Junior High and High School, the teachers used to call out the grades in descending order. I remember it was a painful experience to sit there and hear your name not being called. I also remember how the process set the status of the students in the classroom. There was no guessing as to who the smartest and brightest were. Likewise, there was no hiding those students that were having troubles with the content.

For me, it motivated me beyond belief. I strived to be one of those first ones called. And when I worked hard enough and I was called, the pride and sense of accomplishment I had was unbelievable. And everyone knew that I was competing for the highest marks.

Looking back, I see that this system may have worked for me. But I am sure it hindered the development of some students as well.

New System

To try to mitigate these adverse affects, the Educational System places less emphasis on marks in the early grades. I’ve always had my concerns about the potential downside of this approach. How can I tell how my kids are doing with the subject matter? The new grading system is now less concise and allows for placement into four large categories. I find this grading more subjective and harder to interpret.

That isn’t the point of this Blog though…

It was mentioned by multiple parents of the boys that a new competition has arisen with the boys in the Grade 2 class. Since marks are not disclosed and discussed, the boys compete over the one visible metric – Finishing First.

The boys that finish their work first can move on to other fun activities. They can play or at least choose what activities they would like to do. Although the reports cards report that the boys rush through their work, they are just working in the defined system. By taking the focus away from grades, the boys are displaying the behaviour the system values.


This is a topic for a future Parent/Teacher meeting. I think I’d like to discuss Systems Thinking and the relation to behaviour in the classroom. The educational system has reduced the focus on grades and now speed is the behaviour the system values.

At least grades had some correlation to the learning of the content and ability to progress in future grades. Speed has no correlation to future grades and success in the real world. Speed only matters once you are correct.

For me, this was a great illustration of Systems Thinking. You get what you measure and value.

For me, I’d love to see an Educational System that measures and values:

1) What has been learned

2) Passion and Effort

3) Questions and Curiosity

By the way, I’d like to see teachers graded in the same way. 🙂


Author: Terry Bunio

Terry Bunio is passionate about his work as the Manager of the Project Management Office at the University of Manitoba. Terry oversees the governance on Information Technology projects to make sure the most important projects are being worked on in a consistent and effective way. Terry also provides leadership on the customized Project Methodology that is followed. The Project Methodology is a equal mix of Prince2, Agile, Traditional, and Business Value. Terry strives to bring Brutal Visibility, Eliminating Information islands, Right Sizing Documentation, Promoting Collaboration and Role-Based Non-Consensus, and short Feedback Loops to Minimize Inventory to the Agile Project Management Office. As a fan of pragmatic Agile, Terry always tries to determine if we can deliver value as soon as possible through iterations. As a practical Project Manager, Terry is known to challenge assumptions and strive to strike the balance between the theoretical and real world approaches for both Traditional and Agile approaches. Terry is a fan of AWE (Agile With Estimates), the Green Bay Packers, Winnipeg Jets, and asking why?

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