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So, You Want to be a Change Agent?

by Trisha Nikrandt, Director of Learning at The Columbus School in Medellín, Colombia

What are the 7 Secret Powers of a Change Agent? What tools can support teachers and school systems to analyze problems and solutions at a deep level to create sustainable change? What is sustainability? These are some of the many questions that AASSA Educators who attended the two-day Level 2 Systems Thinking Training at The Columbus School tackled.

The training began with an interactive review of the systems tools and activities to prepare students for thinking in systems that participants learned in Level 1: The Compass Tool, Iceberg Tool, Systems Mapping Tool, Web Game, Triangles, and SDG Web (read descriptions here). If you’d like to learn more about the power of these tools, you can visit the Compass Education Website.

In level two participants learned how to use the pyramid and ladder of inference as tools to proactively make decisions that can lead to systemic change. The pyramid shifts our thinking from understanding what is happening and why it is happening in the lower levels of the pyramid, into planning how to make change with innovations and strategies that work with the interconnected system. The ladder of inference is a describes the thinking process that we go through, usually without realizing it, to get from a fact to a decision and action. The thinking stages can be seen as rungs on a ladder. Starting at the bottom of the ladder, we have reality and facts. From there, we:

  1. Experience these selectively based on our beliefs and prior experience.

  2. Interpret what they mean.

  3. Apply our existing assumptions, sometimes without considering them.

  4. Draw conclusions based on the interpreted facts and our assumptions.

  5. Develop beliefs based on these conclusions.

  6. Take actions that seem “right” because they are based on what we believe.

This pattern of thinking can create a vicious circle. Our beliefs have a big effect on how we select from reality, and can lead us to ignore the true facts altogether. Soon we are literally jumping to conclusions – by missing facts and skipping steps in the reasoning process. By using the Ladder of Inference, people (teachers and students) can learn to get back to the facts and use their beliefs and experiences to positive effect, rather than allowing them to narrow their field of judgment. Following this step-by-step reasoning can lead to better results, based on reality, and avoiding unnecessary mistakes and conflict (Compass Education, 2019). If you’d like to learn more, check out this video.

The group also studied how to become change agents and models of change theory. The group was asked to think about these 7 Secret Powers of a Change Agent by Alan Atkisson:

  1. The power of invitation

  2. The power of volunteering

  3. The power of facilitating

  4. The power of simplicity

  5. The power of creativity

  6. The power of patience

  7. The power of not seeking power

What if you were to pose these secrets to the teachers at your school? The leadership team? The Board? How might they reflect on their own power and how they might improve to become a true Change Agent.

On the final day of the activity groups identified a problem at their school and began using all their tools to find innovations and strategies to begin shifting mindsets and systems structures to improve the current situation. Teams worked on topics from improving communication at their school to coming up with steps aligned to their strategic initiative plan of “Assessment as Learning.”

The participants were thankful to AASSA for supporting their learning with a grant and making systems thinking a priority. Britta McCarthy shared a Science department chair and coach shared:

 “Working with Compass Ed in levels 1 and 2 has helped me to understand everything around me in a deeper and more interconnected way and make plans and decisions with a better understanding of what actions have more leverage and less unintended consequences. I also feel that uncovering mental models and trying to figure out how to work with them in a strategic way has been helpful at the classroom, team, and personal level. I am excited to work with these tools and ways of thinking with students and other community members because they really support critical thinking and sustainable change.”

Brian Summers as Social Studies teacher also shared: 

“I feel that the systems thinking conference shifted my thinking in the fact that it gave me the tools to try and see the whole picture when it comes to problems and situations in which you want to see change. By using the tools provided to us, it allows us to make informed decisions in order to move forward and make progress, instead of just making snap judgments and decision that might cause unintended consequences.”

If you are looking for a way to incorporate sustainability and systems thinking into to your curriculum, strategic planning or life, the Compass Education training is the perfect catalyst to begin a lifelong change.


Author: Trisha Nikrandt is the current Director of Learning at The Columbus School in Medellín, Colombia with a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership, a Bachelor’s Degree in Education and Spanish.  She is an educator with 17 years’ experience in the United States, Brazil and Colombia and has held the roles of teacher, Freshman Coordinator, Curriculum Coordinator, Vice Principal and Director of Learning.


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