Thursday, July 31, 2014

How to apply systems thinking mapping to helping kids move through school

In a number of past articles I've posted videos by Gene Bellinger, who leads a Systems Thinking network on a variety of web platforms. In a video I watched today Gene showed the history that led him to what he is doing today. I encourage you to view this.

As I looked at the first part of the video I was reminded of my own efforts using concept maps to show my history going back to 1965 when employees at the Montgomery Ward Corporation launched a tutor/mentor program in Chicago. I created this map to show history and my involvement until 1992, then this map to show the creation of the Tutor/Mentor Connection, and my involvement, since late 1992.

I'm inspired to convert many of my maps and graphics to KUMU and Insight maker and create videos to help people understand them, but unlike Gene, I've not built a network of thousands of people who are interacting regularly about ways to make youth tutor/mentor programs available in high poverty neighborhoods, or to help those programs constantly improve their impact over many years as a result of how donors, business partners and volunteers support them. In fact, since 2011 I've operated as Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC due to changes at the non profit I had founded to do this work in 1992. It has been difficult to find talent, leaders and donors to give me the organizational strength to continue the Tutor/Mentor Connection in Chicago, led alone help similar groups grow in other cities.

Thus, I spend a lot of time talking to myself, and creating in a vaacuum.

I created this graphic a few years ago to illustrate the fact that every youth serving organization is constantly experimenting, trying to find the best ways to motivate youth and volunteers to participate, and trying to find ways to turn this into youth aspirations that lead to motivation and learning. Edison had a good amount of wealth to support his experiments. Over the years I led Cabrini Connections I struggled to find dollars and talent to do this thinking with me. Hundreds of other youth serving organizations face the same challenges.

Parents are constantly experimenting, in raising their own kids. Tutor/Mentor program leaders are also constantly experimenting trying to help the kids they work with grow up. Few of us have blueprints to follow. Few of us have the consistent funding needed.

I created this graphic to illustrate this concept. Raising kids is like building a building. We start with a blueprint (and financing) then dig the foundation. From that stage forward,with the help of teams of workers who have different skills, we build the building, one floor at a time.

Chicago and other cities needs well organized, age appropriate, mentor rich programs in all high poverty neighborhoods. However, no one has a blueprint and no long term financing exists to support the hundreds of programs needed. The thinking behind a well organized program is complex. I've not found any programs using systems thinking mapping to show their history, and steps they go through to help youth move on to college, vocational education and jobs.

The thinking behind mobilizing resources to fill a city with programs is even more complex. Once Edison invented the light bulb, he then invented an industry that enabled light bulbs to be in every home and business. He had a lot of help doing that and a lot of money to invest. I've had even more difficulty finding people to invest money in the Tutor/Mentor Connection, which is aimed at building a citywide network of youth serving organizations that work in a systematic way to help kids move from first grade to first job and on through adult lives out of poverty.

The systems thinking tools Gene has described in his videos are available to me, and anyone else who cares about helping close the gaps between rich and poor. We should find a way to use them.

I'm don't want to invest my own time converting what I've built over the past 20 years into a new way of sharing ideas. I want to do this as a collaborative project with others who focus on the same goals, or who want to carry on the Tutor/Mentor Connection in Chicago, and in other cities, in future years.

I've talked to many people about duplicating the Tutor/Mentor Connection. However, most don't really understand it. I feel that until someone actually is trying to create their own graphics, write their own blog articles, and enlist their own network in support of these ideas, they won't really understand. Until you are leading a tutor/mentor program and struggling to find the resources you need to operate, you won't fully understand how challenging, and how frustrating this is. If the Board of a non profit were writing regular articles, and creating their own graphics to illustrate the work that needs to be done, more would have a deeper commitment to strategies that support the growth of all programs, and would do more to help obtain the resources needed.

In today's video Gene said at one point "this (systems thinking and systems thinking mapping) is only important if it enables you to do something meaningful with it."

I think that foundations, researchers, businesses focusing on workforce skill development, policy makers, media and many in this country are as concerned with the education of our youth and with preparing them to compete in a global workforce as I am.

In fact, there are many who are beginning to do work in this area. Take a look at the Prezi on this page of the Kirwan Institute at Ohio State University. Take a look at the way information is shared on the Boston Indicators site. In this section of the Tutor/Mentor web library I point to many who are innovating in visual thinking.

There must be some who will invest time and talent to apply the ideas Gene is sharing to mapping and sharing the information and ideas I've aggregated over the past 40 years.

Where to start? Look at the projects interns have created to share their own understanding of Tutor/Mentor Connection. Build your own understanding by creating a map on Insight maker, or on Prezi of some other platform. Join the forum where I've coached interns, and let me coach you and your team. Of reach out to me on Twitter or Facebook, or this site, and offer financial support to help me build this network.

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