Hacking Simple Systems: The Tale of an Incomplete Soccer Uniform

” This blog post explores the latter: systems redesign as not just a means to innovate but as a means to make due, be resourceful, and get by as a mom.” Being scrappy and making things work within the current context is the only way new initiatives will thrive.

Making Thinking Happen

All dressed up but not quite ready to go. Tatum's daughter showed up for the first day of soccer practice wearing a party dress and sparkly flats. What to do? All dressed up but not quite ready to go: Tatum’s daughter showed up for the first day of soccer practice wearing a party dress and sparkly flats. What to do?

By Tatum Omari, Guest Author

When I used to think about systems redesign, and what would inspire a person to redesign something in the first place, images of super smarties standing next to state of the art tech contraptions immediately came to mind. Now that I’ve had a chance to work with Agency by Design as a member of the Oakland Learning Community, I realize that systems are everywhere. There are high tech systems, such as the parts and pieces that go together to make your car start in the morning, and low tech systems, say the parts and pieces that go together to transform your child into a soccer player. This blog post explores the latter: systems…

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Rich Dialogue with Effective Feedback


Giving and recieving  feedback is an important part of the understanding process.  When teachers develop effective feedback strategies, self and peer assessment is further enhanced.

The Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Project  Zero team has developed a useful tool for providing feedback. The tool is intended for a colleague or peer to provide feedback to a teaching peer about either their lesson, unit or potentially course of learning.  This tool supports deeper understanding via rich dialogue between students, peers and instructors.

The Ladder of feedback has four steps or phases. They are:

  1. Clarify – are there aspects of this lesson, unit course that you don’t believe you understood?
  2. Value – what do you see in this lesson, unit or course that you find to be particularly impressive, innovative or strong?
  3. Offer Concerns – Do you detect some potential problems or challenges within this lesson, unit or course? Do you disagree with some part of the design
  4. Suggest – Do you have suggestions on how to address the concerns you identified during the last step?


Reese, James. “Teaching for Understanding 1: An Introduction to the Framework” Project Zero Summer Institute 2013. Harvard Graduate School of Education. . 22 July. 2013. Lecture.


For more information









What Is the Teaching For Understanding Framework”?


What is understanding?

“The performance view of understanding is consonant with both common sense and a number of sources in contemporary cognitive science. The performance perspective says, in brief, that understanding is a matter of being able to do a variety of thought-provoking things with a topic, such as explaining, finding evidence and examples, generalizing, applying, analogizing, and representing the topic in new ways.”


From The Teaching for Understanding Guide by Tina Blythe and Associates (Jossey-Bass, 1999)


The Teaching for Understanding framework

  1. Throughlines, or Overarching Understanding Goals (extend through the entire course—focus learners on BIG understandings)
  2. Generative Topic (the content we focus on in our unit; what it is about the topic that motivates us to learn more)
  3. Understanding Goals (extend through a unit; connect to Throughlines and stem from the Generative Topic)
  4. Performances of Understanding (learners demonstrate their understanding of the topic at various points in a unit)
  5. Ongoing Assessment (learners assess themselves and one another, and receive frequent formative feedback from the teacher)


Teaching for Understanding: An introduction to the framework (mini course powerpoint) 

Teaching for Understanding Project Organizer


Reese, James. “Teaching for Understanding 1: An Introduction to the Framework” Project Zero Summer Institute 2013. Harvard Graduate School of Education. . 22 July. 2013. Lecture.

Making It Happen: “When Change Has Legs”


The problem with new initiatives is that nobody wants another thing to do.  Everyone is full-up, drowning in a plate that is over-full.  Still, continuous improvement seems necessary.  Change , naturally, falls out of the need to get better at what we do.  Better means smarter; more focused and full of intent.  Embedding new frameworks and specific practices into our schools can be tricky.  Failure rates can be high and sustaining efforts over time requires keen leadership.

In a previous entry, I stated

For lasting change, we must build upon the good things that are already happening within the school ecology.

In an article written for Educational Leadership (“SPECIAL TOPIC: When Change Has Legs”), David Perkins and Jim Reese elaborate on four key factors that  help determine whether change efforts will be sustained over time.

“we might think of change as traveling on four legs: frameworks, leaders, community, and institutionalization.”



  • teachers are more likely to warm to frameworks they can adapt to their personal styles and circumstances
  • teachers can often work effectively with two or three frameworks simultaneously, as long as the frameworks are not contradictory

Roadblocks that thwart change

  • stiff, rigid frameworks with little room for individualization
  • juggling more than a few frameworks that don’t “fit” together well

What seems to work

  • allowing for individual implementation of the framework with frequent feedback from colleagues
  • choosing just a few roomy frameworks that fit well together.



  • Initiatives need a political visionary (often the principal) who advocates for the initiative relentlessly,   making it a priority, defending it against critics, explaining it to parents, appearing for key events, and allocating resources
  • They also need a practical visionary (often teachers) who is given the time and resources to manages the program on the ground, organizing faculty groups and events and conducting some training and coaching.

Roadblocks that thwart change

  • simply being “friendly” toward an initiative is not leading the initiative
  • administrators cannot easily play the dual role of political and practical visionary

What seems to work

  • Leadership with a slow but constant presence
  • The initiative is not a bulky mandate, but instead becomes more about “who we are”



  • widespread change efforts include a complex set of interactions
  • varying degrees of acceptance are to be expected and planned for by all
  • a collegial culture is crucial; transparency essential

Roadblocks that thwart change

  • a strong in-group and out-group can form if leaders are not careful about initial work
  • the polarization can grow, making success increasingly unlikely

What seems to work

  •  make information widely available to staff, community and other school leaders
  • recruit teachers with experience in new initiative to share stories; remain inclusive



  • sustaining over time is difficult as the context changes
  • initiatives need to be written into the school’s “dna”

Roadblocks that thwart change

  • practical and/or political visionaries leave
  • change was not planned for; momentum subsides

What seems to work

  • plan for teaching new staff
  • create a framework for sharing practices; place events on calendar

It is not enough to simply adopt a new initiative with integrity.  Instead, we must be intentional about HOW we put legs on the framework.  Our choices will determine the degree to which new practices emerge; change in practice becomes systemic.

Perkins and Reese add:

” The main point is that teachers like talking about teaching. So with a shared language and a shared approach there is loads of room for talking. It brings teachers out of their classrooms, their grades and their departments, and creates a more collaborative school environment.”

Perkins, David N. and Reese, James D.   “Special Topic:  When Change Has Legs“. Educational Leadership.  71 ( 8),     2014.  42-47. Print. Electronic.