Volume:1, Issue: 3

Dec. 15, 2009

What Do We Know Today about a School Holistic System?
Selivanova, Natalia L. [about]

DESCRIPTORS: a school holistic system; administrative regulations; creative solutions; goals and objectives; system-formative activities; relationships; systems’ management; the whole of interconnected components; a new formula - “multiple collectives and a personality”; businesslike and emotional-psychological relationships.

SYNOPSIS: The author briefly describes the main ideas of the concept of school holistic systems, stressing the importance of interpersonal relationships of businesslike and emotional-psychological types.

What Do We Know Today about a School Holistic System?
An abridged version

Current Russian educational reality knows two types of school holistic systems – those that are just declared, and the other ones that exist in reality. In its turn, the latter ones can further be split into two different groups – the so called «authorial»2 holistic systems, created within the so-called authorial schools (see: Dr. Tsyrlina's research3) and more numerous school holistic systems, which were created only due to the demands of different educational authorities coming in the form of orders, regulations, or recommendations. Whenever such orders or recommendations are given, they interfere with teachers' creativity and prevent any innovative decisions. More over, school holistic systems, which are created by bureaucratic orders, usually look alike – being different in only a few details. At the same time, when teachers are creative and eager to develop their own school holistic system, they typically run afoul of their local authorities and find themselves in contradiction of traditional school practices.

There are two ways out of such a situation: schools either give up, loose their unique character and become identical with every other ordinary school, or pursue their own way and create something entirely different. This second variant seldom happens – clearly not every school is capable of introducing innovations. More often than not, every new school holistic system represents a synthesis of administrative regulations “from above,” which inevitably make such a school similar to many others, and independent creative solutions, which allow a school to develop a number of its own particular features.

In general, any school holistic system can be described as both, a current pedagogical term, and an educational phenomenon, present in educational practice and reality. Such phenomena have been known in Russia since the eighteenth century.

A school holistic system always has a compound nature and represents the whole of interconnected components: goals; activities to realize those goals; people who are active participants of those activities; personal relationships within a school system; the system's local environment and surroundings which are mastered by its teachers, students, and parents; and an internal management that allows the integration of all system components into a single whole.
The key phrase here is «the whole of interconnected components» because any system does not so much depend on its components as much as it depends on the connections among them.

It is evident today, that the main school goal is the development of every individual student. Many schools formulate this goal as their primary mission and describe it as a number of certain personal traits, which should be formed and sustained. The lists of such traits are usually good by themselves but schools are often unable to work on them. For example, many schools consider it necessary to develop their students' intellectual abilities but at the same time they lack highly professional teachers who could make it happen.

The objectives of different school holistic systems are usually very different, but hardly a problem. The most important thing is to set and preserve only humanistic goals and avoid those, which are antisocial in nature. We should also keep in mind that though a school is a central formal educational institution, there are many other institutions and groups that have a serious impact on students.  Clearly, schools by themselves are not able to solve all the problems of education. A school holistic system should also consider a contradictory complex of educational and non-educational personal objectives of the students themselves (Alexander Sidorkin).

Any school holistic system is built around certain system-formative activities, which are supposed to reflect the needs of all the school's individual members. These activities should be meaningful and important for students, their parents, and teachers; they should also naturally correlate with the school itself and be financially supported.

System-formative activities could be different in the process of building, maintaining, and developing a school holistic system. For example, Moscow school No. 825 was at first unable to use intellectual activities as their system-formative activities because at the beginning, the school was not ready for them – academic classes were not popular among students who were oriented towards acquiring certain knowledge and skills; teachers were estranged from each other and focused on their own subjects, rarely leaving their classrooms during the school day, and using traditional teaching methods. In that situation the school principal had to give priority to extracurricular activities over classes.

Subjects (active participants) of the school holistic system are not only teachers but also students themselves (this is one of the primary features which differentiates a humanistic school system from an authoritarian one). Working together, teachers and students analyze their school goals and translate them into practical objectives, which they further develop into common activities. One of the main prerequisites, which make such activities complete and successful, is merging students and teachers into one “collective”4unit. Such a collective represents the core of a humanistic school holistic system, an organic entity of organizational structures and the group psychological essence.

There exist two interconnected and interdependent processes: creating a school holistic system and making a school collective within it more coherent. In this situation a school collective should be considered a unity of different primary adults' and students' groups. To achieve such a unity is already an important result and a precondition for the further development of a school holistic system.

It is critical to differentiate among students’ collectives because every student develops a personality through being part of many of them; they are usually different in structure, duration, and their educational potential.  At present, we can clearly see a transition from a traditional formula – «a single collective and a personality» to an advanced formula –«multiple collectives and a personality». It is preferable that collectives differentiate their activities, use different ways to involve students and set different time frame of their participation.

Educators should also have a differentiated approach to studying, modeling and organizing such collectives. This will prevent collectives from being similar to each other as often happens in practice. For example, extracurricular activities at times are indistinguishable from regular classes with their traditional methods and forms. 

On the one hand, we tend to differentiate students’ collectives; on the other hand, we face the problem of how to integrate the collectives' influences on one student. If integration is not effective, then multiple collectives influence students in very contradictory ways. To prevent such a situation, teachers should provide the best possible educational influence of every student’s collective and make sure that this influence complements each other.

Within a school holistic system students participate in numerous activities and establish certain relationships with other students, other collectives, and different adults (teachers and parents). Such relationships are extremely important because, depending on their humanistic character, the school holistic system either grows in effectiveness or remains weak.  We need to remember that adult – student relationships do not become humanistic simply by saying so or due to their activities. This is true about any activities – even those that are well organized and maintained. Intra-school relationships are definitely impacted by school activities, children's literature, mass media, and inner school ethos; but they are also strongly affected by the relationships which students experience in their families and peer groups. In real life, children are not always exposed to humanistic relationships outside of school. This makes the process of humanizing relationships among children even more important. It is critical that every child accumulate an experience of relationships based on mutual support and help, mutual responsibility and understanding, patience, tolerance, and respect.
Every student is part of many different groups and relationships. However, the relationships among students are the most important ones because they are responsible for a child's status in both a class group and in school.

Regardless of their differences, all relationships can be divided into two types: businesslike (or functional) which usually grow out of certain activities and role-dependant communication, and emotional-psychological. Both types are extremely important in the process of creating student collectives and in the social development of their members.  No collective can exist without one of these types of relationships. It is quite evident that relationships based on interdependence do not come about by themselves but are always the result of well-planned, organized, and diverse activities. Clearly, businesslike relationships should be flexible and dynamic. Unfortunately, only a few children experience this type of relationships in their schools, though it is extremely important – especially today when our current economy is oriented towards the ideals of the market and the value of entrepreneurship. 

Friendly relationships are required for the normal development of an individual child or groups of children. These relationships are very selective and unpredictable, and they usually happen spontaneously regardless of teachers' efforts. Being an inseparable part of an emotional-psychological school atmosphere, such relationships connect and bind all school members. Teachers, who develop businesslike relationships, should be aware of the emotional connections, which already exist among students. Even more so, adults should do everything possible to strengthen such connections and help developing new ones. Clearly, the more friendly connections a school creates for its students, the more precious that school will become for them.

Children's relationships are usually very dynamic. Any changes in the sphere of emotional connections will inevitably affect the sphere of business connections, and vice versa. Taken together, these relationships create a certain school atmosphere and a psychological climate within a children's group or a collective. It is very important to preserve students’ friendship, optimism, and trust; every student should feel that he or she is fully protected while at school. 
Any school holistic system is an open-type system: the local community or the local surroundings play an important role in creating, preserving, and developing such a system. They do not only influence the system but they also become an inseparable component.  

The management of a school holistic system is never restricted by the process of its creation and growth, because any school holistic system is not a goal unto itself.  On the contrary, a developing personality of every member is such a goal. This raises a problem of how to manage the mutual influence and interconnections between a system and every personality within it. This «personally tailored» management demands the creation of more effective ways of how to include both students and teachers into the system's routine: goal setting, joint creative activities, interpersonal and inter-group relationships, and their reflection, as well as self-realization and self-determination.

This then allows us to suggest that the process of managing any school holistic system has three aspects: management of the system's development, management which allows to preserve and strengthen the system, and finally, the so-called «corrective management» (not the best term) which tends to include every child and every adult within a system of different collective activities and to find the best possible position for them. 

One of the most important aspects of the management process, especially when a developing system is involved, is the creation of effective connections among its components. It is literally impossible to separately develop goals, think of system-formative activities and key actions, or create humanistic relationships. Goals should be implemented in corresponding activities, and activities should bring certain relationships to life. Connections among system's components and their appropriate strengthening and correcting contribute to the system's overall integrity.

A school holistic system is never fixed in a certain state, it is always in the process of being developed. Ideas, attitudes, ways of children's interconnections, types of activities, and organizational structures come and go; the school collective's life can become more complex and orderly, or it can become more disorganized. These processes are typical of the development of any system.

In the school holistic system we can clearly decipher different variants of how to preserve and duplicate certain types of activities, typically certain system's traditions and prohibitions when the usual order of things and activities has been destroyed. The system tries to duplicate itself the way it is used to be but some changes are inevitable. The development of the system happens primarily due to its self-organizing character and in a number of different ways. The sources of such development are usually located within the system and not outside it.  This self-organizing character, and the analysis of the present system’s state, permits prediction the system's future.

Due to the variety of school holistic systems it is quite difficult to determine only a single classification of them.There are different approaches, one of which is to use system-formative activities as the main criteria. If we do this, then all school holistic systems fall into three types: cognitive, club-type, and labor-centered.  Dr. Mikhail V. Voropaev suggested another interesting classification of school holistic systems that is based on the system’s values-orientations.5
Contradictions between chaos and order are very typical for every social system. On the one hand, any system in the process of its development is moving towards its full order; on the other hand, a fully-balanced and orderly state is the system's «death», a halt in its development, which is a very contradictory and non-linear process, characterized by recessions, success, and long periods of stability. There are also times when the system is moving backwards, loosing what it gained before – positive features in both relationships and creative activities. But this should not frighten educators; instead they should analyze the reasons and consequences of different processes within the system. 

The development of a school holistic system is a natural process that is defined by its objective contradictions. Though this does not mean that the system’s development is predetermined by the existing circumstances. There are usually many variants of development available though not all of them have a certain educational value, and not all of them are positive for a student’s personal development.

In conclusion, we would like to stress one more time that a school holistic system could be extremely effective for students' personal development. But this happens only when every system's component is oriented towards this goal.

1 Selivanova, Natalia L., [In Russian: Наталья Леонидовна Cеливанова], Professor, Ph.D., Associate Member of the Russian Academy of Education, Director, Research Center of the Theory of Education, Moscow, Russia.

2 “Authorial” means created by a certain author, like Montessori schools. Such holistic systems do not happen in practice very often though history of education knows a number of them. One of the future journal issues will be devoted totally to authorial schools’ theory and practice /Editor’s note/.

3 See: Tsyrlina, T.V. /Цырлина Т.В./ (2001) A Humanistic Authorial School: A View from the Past into the Future (Russian Pedagogical Society, Moscow). /In Russian/.

4 A collective is a group of people united by common goals and objectives, socially positive and valuable activities; this is a group which reached a high level of development. A collective is usually characterized by a certain type of interpersonal relationships, typically it is a highly united group of people, who share common values, etc. (See in detail in Russian: http://psihotesti.ru/gloss/tag/kollektiv/). /Editor’s note/.

5 See: Voropaev, M.V. /Воропаев В.М./ (2003) School Holistic Systems in the Social Institute of Education. In: Education: Researched in the World/ an online course /In Russian[ http://www.oim.ru

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