Waters Foundation 2018 Year in Review


As the year comes to a close, we invite you to take a look at some of our most memorable moments of 2018. There were many to choose from, and we are grateful to our network of systems thinkers that spans the globe. We remain humbled by the opportunity to collaborate with such a diverse group of educators, students and businesspeople. We truly are better together and look forward to learning from and growing with one another in the months and years ahead!

We hope you enjoy the 2018 Year in Review and wish you a joyful and prosperous 2019.

Highlights from the Field

Building a Brighter Future in Alabama and Kentucky Schools and Communities

The Systems Thinking in School Communities Project, funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, has seen tremendous success this year. The project, which aims to develop a model that scaffolds a systems thinking approach to student empowerment in early education, school improvement, and community engagement has been implemented in several regional locations that include: East Central Alabama, with participating districts Auburn City Schools and Lee County Schools; Eastern Kentucky, involving Owsley County Schools and Lee County School District; and schools in Wolfe and Breathitt counties.

This year, we have had the pleasure of working within 19 schools in these two states and with over 100 educators who are using systems thinking to foster deeper learning and high-quality early childhood environments and services. A group of these educators are undergoing our Facilitator in Training process through which they will acquire the skills needed to spread systems thinking work in schools and their communities for many years beyond the life of this grant project.

And speaking of community, we are pleased that work in these regions has led to learning partnerships with Auburn University, the Kentucky Valley Education Cooperative, and Central Kentucky Head Start. We look forward to connecting with more community organizations and members in the year ahead, and continuing to deliver positive results for students.

Creating a Systems Thinking Impact Team at Twin Rivers Unified School District

Building models for effective, applicable and sustainable systems thinking capacity is core to our mission — and that’s precisely what we’ve been up to this year at the Twin Rivers Unified School District (TRUSD) in Sacramento County, CA. The goal of the ST Impact Team is to ensure systems thinking approaches are integrated and supported throughout the district — it’s a 360-degree approach that involves staff at all levels and in all types of roles to ensure alignment and commitment to goal-setting and decision-making.

The enthusiasm of team members is unparalleled, and it’s been gratifying to see district staff develop as systems thinking leaders, coaches and workshop trainers. This will ensure that the important work being done will spread to every member of the organization. We are thrilled to continue this work in 2019 and to see it continue to progress and lead to desirable outcomes for the district and the students and community it serves.

A Testament of Longevity: Catalina Foothills School District

Close to 30 years ago, we began our systems thinking work with teachers and administrators in the Catalina Foothills School District (CFSD). A lot has changed over the past three decades, but the benefits of systems thinking have not. Not only do systems thinking concepts, habits and tools remain prevalent with teachers and students in CFSD classrooms, but they are also core to strategic priorities for the district as a whole. This year, we facilitated the CFSD Administrators Leadership Development Series, which focused on applying systems thinking to roles and responsibilities in order to create action plans that produce desired outcomes. We are grateful for our history and partnership with CFSD and look forward to continuing our relationship in 2019 and beyond!

Improving Learning Outcomes for Young Children with the CEELO Leadership Academy

This year marked the fourth year of our involvement in the Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO) Leadership Academy. Systems thinking has been a key component for the four cohorts of leadership fellows in the program, who have come from all across the country to develop systems thinking capabilities to positively impact their leadership development. This year the cohort included individuals from: Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, Oregon, Tennessee, and Texas.

It’s been an honor to work with this group of outstanding individuals, and we are proud that evaluation data shows that fellows have reported their systems thinking knowledge has helped to reframe challenges into opportunities and to manage effectively both within and across their state agencies.

Emerging Leaders and the Value of Student Voices

This year we continued our work in the Sunnyside Unified School District in Tucson, AZ, funded by the Hewlett Foundation. While there have been many milestones and successes in 2018, we are particularly proud of students’ application and advocacy of systems thinking. This includes applying systems thinking habits, concepts and tools to address issues that are important to students (for example, campus culture, student success and ways to positively impact their community). Not only has this emergence of student voice and leadership influenced strategic goals for the district, it’s also enhanced the confidence, communication and critical thinking skills of Sunnyside students, some of whom participated in the 2018 Waters Foundation Milwaukee Systems Thinking Institute and presented at the 2018 EdLeader21 conference in Phoenix, AZ.

Sunnyside has also incorporated systems thinking into their Leadership Academy, which supports teachers who aspire to grow their leadership skills and career trajectory.

Event and Workshop Highlights

Better Together: Milwaukee Systems Thinking Institute 2018

What do you get when you gather over 100 teachers, school administrators, business leaders, community members and students? Aside from a lot of interesting conversations, learning opportunities, networking (and fun!), you get the foundation for one of our Systems Thinking Institutes.

In March of 2018, we held our second annual Systems Thinking Institute hosted by Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). This three-day event was full of systems thinking workshops, a Systems Leaders Spotlight Panel, a student panel, a field trip to schools in the MPS district using systems thinking in classrooms, and a variety of keynote speeches.

Click below for a video recap of the 2018 Milwaukee Systems Thinking Institute.

Wish you would have been there? Stay in the loop about upcoming Institutes and other multi-day events by registering here.

Serving Educators Through Systems Thinking at The Arizona Science Teachers Symposium

Working with a group of teachers who are passionate about changing the lives and futures of students through systems thinking brings us a tremendous sense of purpose and pride. And that’s exactly what we found at the 2018 Arizona Science Teachers Symposium (an annual event of the Arizona Science Teachers Association). The theme of the event was “Systems for Teaching Science,” and we were pleased to co-sponsor and hold a session facilitated by Waters Foundation Chief Learning Officer, Sheri Marlin.

Over 90 K-12 STEM teachers from across Arizona gathered to deepen their knowledge of systems thinking concepts, habits and tools that will help students see interconnections and leverage points that will help them make sense of not only systems, but also the world.

Diverse Perspectives and Working Toward a Shared Vision: Puget Sound Workshop

In the summer of 2018, we were asked to facilitate a workshop at the Puget Sound Educational Service District. The title of the workshop was, “Improving Student Success with Systems Thinking— Developing Capacity for Thinking, Leading, Teaching and Learning.” The time spent learning and practicing the habits, concepts and tools of systems thinking was made even more rewarding due to the diverse perspectives of participants. The workshop included individuals from the United States Navy, the North Central Education Service District, Arizona Head Start, the American International School in Ecuador, the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, New Visions for Public Schools (New York City), The Revolution Project (Philadelphia) and teachers and administrators from districts in Washington and New Jersey.

It was an honor to learn from this group of professionals all working towards a common goal: to achieve desired results through the application of systems thinking. This workshop embodies one of our favorite phrases: Better together!

Systems Thinking in Higher-Ed: The Yale Systems Change Conference

In September of this year, Waters Foundation President, Tracy Benson, was invited to showcase our work at the Systems Change in Innovation Education conference at Yale University. This event brought together systems change-makers from Yale, MIT, Northeastern University, Cornell, Duke, the Omidyar Group, The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, Academy for Systems Change, Care.com, University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, and many, many more.

We are grateful for the opportunity to share how systems thinking is not only a vital aspect for professors and students of higher education, but also how we are preparing young people (PreK-12) to foster the critical thinking skills needed to be successful in their postsecondary journeys and beyond.

City Systems and the Power of Collaboration: The TENWEST Festival

In October of 2018, we partnered with the University of Arizona STEM Learning Center and the Southern Arizona Research, Science and Engineering Foundation (SARSEF) to co-host the STEM Connect conference, which was a part of the 4th annual TENWEST Festival held in Tucson, AZ.

TENWEST welcomed thousands of Tucsonans to experience hundreds of unique events that encourage curiosity and discovery in the arts, social impact, STEM, entrepreneurship, technology, and sustainability. The festival is an opportunity to immerse oneself in the many systems in Tucson and to identify ways to foster a community of collaboration that serves all of its members for generations to come. We were honored to be a part of the TENWEST festival and to facilitate the STEMConnect portion of the event, which focused on systems thinking and was led by Sheri Marlin, Chief Learning Officer of the Waters Foundation.

For a video recap of our role in TENWEST, click below.

Organizational Highlights

Enhancing User Experience with a New Website

Beauty is more than screen deep. While we think our new website, designed in early 2018 by Eric Waight, Waters Foundation Technology & Operations Coordinator, is a thing of beauty, it offers much more than a new and innovative design. The new site includes improved functionality, a searchable resource database, and digital Habits of a Systems Thinker cards, to name just a few additions.

Click below for a brief video tour of our website.

Growing the Waters Foundation Family

We were pleased to add several members to our Associates Team this year. As college undergraduates, Desiree Chrun, Trevor Hicks, Dianne Lam, and Michael Savage bring new perspectives to our work and facilitation team. Working primarily with high school students as they use systems thinking concepts and tools to tackle ethical challenges and answer big questions (for example, “What does student success look like?”), this group of outstanding individuals have worked with students at several Waters Foundation events across the country and will continue to do so in 2019. Learn more about our new Associates here.

Looking Ahead

Growing our Network

We are pleased that in 2019 we will continue partnerships with districts, schools, community organizations, government agencies, non-profits and businesses that we have had the pleasure of working with in 2018. Our network is also growing in the year ahead! This includes partnerships with the International School of Indiana, Butler University, and a role in the iStronG (Inclusive, Strong and Green) project, funded by the National Science Foundation, to name a few.

Don’t Miss It: Indianapolis Systems Thinking Forum, March 2019

We will be holding a Systems Thinking Forum, March 29-30 in Indianapolis! This event will be held in partnership with the International School of Indiana, Butler University and Kappa Delta Pi. The event is a unique opportunity to come together to learn and share experiences using systems thinking in districts, schools, classrooms, businesses, communities, and more. Participants will have the opportunity to grow their systems thinking capacity and make valuable connections to many other systems in the region with the shared goal of fostering an environment that promotes success for young people and beyond.

More information and registration coming soon. Be sure to refer to our website and register here to receive an email notification.

Coming Soon: The Thinking Tools Studio

In 2019 we will be launching our NEW learning management system, the Thinking Tools Studio — and we could not be more excited to deliver this service!

The Thinking Tools Studio will be a subscription-based learning hub on our website and a place to practice the habits and tools of systems thinking in a supportive and collaborative setting. It’s a place of ongoing and regularly updated information (courses/lessons), resources and coaching, with plenty of opportunities to share work and insights with other members. Whether you’re new to systems thinking or looking to lead lessons and activities in your classroom or organization, the Studio will benefit any person from any type of system.

Keep an eye out for the official launch date and register here to receive an email notification.

Our Systems Thinking Journey

For over 30 years, we have had the honor of being a project of the Waters Foundation, founded by our mentor Jim Waters, whose vision and mission of bringing systems thinking to schools around the world has changed the lives of many. For a full history, click here.

Jim and Faith Waters

We are pleased to announce that our work to deliver the benefits of systems thinking has grown to become its own entity — The Waters Center for Systems Thinking. This means we will operate as our own 501(c)(3) (separate from the Waters Foundation), but the mission, values, and vision established by the Waters Foundation and Mr. and Mrs. Waters will remain the core of our work. An official announcement with more details is coming soon! Until then, we thank you for being a part of our evolving systems thinking journey.

We wish you a happy and healthy holiday season and New Year!


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