Systems Thinking Helps Learners Succeed in Today’s Interconnected World


Our more complex, interconnected world demands a new way of thinking. The ability to understand and manage complex systems is an essential skill for today’s learners. This type of thinking, known as Systems Thinking, gives students the ability to succeed and thrive in a world that is very different than the one in which their parents were born. Today’s learners will join a world of innovation and collaboration, a world in which many of their careers have not even been imagined. Knowledge of content and skills will be less important than the ability to understand and anticipate the cause and effect of interconnected systems – to anticipate outcomes based on a holistic understanding of these interconnected systems.

Systems Thinking employs habits of thinking and a set of tools that help learners map and explore how different systems work.

Systems Thinking provides a methodology, language and visual tools that prepare students for success in school and success in their futures. The Waters Foundation’s Systems Thinking in Schools work is recognized worldwide for making Systems Thinking accessible and practical for our nations’ learners, their teachers and administrators. The Waters Foundation focuses on developing generations of systems thinkers who apply 21st century skills in classrooms, schools, communities and future workplaces.

According to teachers who are using Systems Thinking in their classrooms, it promotes student engagement and enables them to direct their own learning. It is beneficial to students of all capacities and dispositions, including English language learners, identified gifted and talented learners, and learners who seem disengaged with their schooling. It helps students and adults organize their thoughts in meaningful ways and make connections between seemingly unrelated issues. It gives them a common language and visual tools to distill their thinking into concise, meaningful language and action.

Educators integrate systems thinking into instruction. Demonstrated understanding of dynamic systems is an essential part of educational standards, including Common Core Standards, state standards and the Next Generation Science Standards.

Benefits for Leaders of Districts and Schools

  • Helps determine high-leverage actions and solutions to problems
  • Positive and productive shifts in school culture
  • Decision-making and problem-solving approaches that maximize benefits to the system
  • Creative and innovative approaches to leadership
  • Improved communication and collaboration skills
  • High and clear expectations
  • Deeper thinking and learning
  • Organizational effectiveness and efficiency
  • Social and emotional wellness

Benefits for Educators and Students

Standards based education and systems thinking approaches complement one another. When integrated into classroom instruction, systems thinking

  • Increases student engagement and fosters a learner-centered environment
  • Cultivates an educational environment that is cooperative, interdisciplinary and relevant
  • Aligns and promotes 21st century skills, STEM goals (e.g. NGSS), and curriculum standards
  • Facilitates rigorous thinking in instruction, which is key to achieving proficiency
  • Supports social and emotional development
  • Fosters student ability to self-manage
  • Provides a common language and a set of tools that facilitate collaborative problem-solving
  • Scaffolds structures for English language learners that results in increased engagement in learning, achievement gains, and elevated levels of efficacy
Systems Thinking is available to school systems nationwide through the Waters Foundation. For more information about how Systems Thinking works and how it can benefit your individual district or state, visit

Contact Us

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.