Lununburg, Fred C. Schools as Open Systems Schooling V1 N1 2010.pdf

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SCHOOLING VOLUME 1, NUMBER 1, 2010 1 SCHOOLS AS OPEN SYSTEMS Fred C. Lunenburg Sam Houston State University ___________________________________________________________ ABSTRACT All public schools are open systems, although the degree of interaction with their environment may vary. Open systems contain five basic elements: inputs, transformation process, outputs, feedback, and the environment. In this article, I discuss each of these five elements of social systems. The open systems view of schools provides an excellent framework for analyzing the process of education and the role the school administrator plays in that process. ___________________________________________________________ Schools are social systems in which two or more persons work together in a coordinated manner to attain common goals (Norlin, 2009). This definition is useful, for it specifies several important features of schools: (1) they consist, ultimately, of people; (2) they are goal-directed in nature; (3) they attain their goals through some form of coordinated effort; and (4) they interact with their external environment. The definition, however, does not elaborate on one important feature of schools deserving special attention: All schools are open systems , although the degree of interaction with their environment may vary. According to open-systems views, schools constantly interact with their environments. In fact, they need to structure themselves to deal with forces in the world around them (Scott, 2008). In contrast, a closed-system theory views schools as sufficiently independent to solve most of their problems through their internal forces, without taking into account forces in the external environment. Consider a school closing or realignment of school boundaries, for example. It affects the people in the school and those outside it in both the community it's moving from and the one it's moving to. Systems theory works on the inside and outside of the organization, as a way of understanding and anticipating the consequences of any decision (Ahrweiler, 2011). A system can be defined as an interrelated set of elements functioning as an operating unit (Senge, 2006). As depicted in Figure 1, an open system consists of five basic elements (Scott, 2008): inputs, a transformation process, outputs, feedback, and the environment.
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SCHOOLING 2_____________________________________________________________________________________ Environment Organization Feedback Environment Figure 1. Open system. Inputs Systems such as schools use four kinds of inputs or resources from the environment: human resources, financial resources, physical resources, and information resources. Human resources include administrative and staff talent, labor, and the like. Financial resources are the capital the school/school district uses to finance both ongoing and long-term operations. Physical resources include supplies, materials, facilities, and equipment. Information resources are knowledge, curricula, data, and other kinds of information utilized by the school/school district.
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