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Anthony Gianaras

EDL 272


The system of improvement that will be the focus of this FBLA is the eighth

grade lunch of Harding Middle School. The improvement plan will be assessed through a

systems thinking lens and the plan, do, study, act model will be utilized in finding the

proper solution. Currently, Harding is the largest Middle School in Des Moines and its

entire student population qualifies for free lunch. Harding serves children from various

neighborhoods located throughout the North and East sides of Des Moines. The mission

of Harding Middle School is to provide each student with unique opportunities to learn

and grow. Embedded in our mission statement are the words each student. Those two

words are vital to the work we do with our children.


Students comprise a part in nearly all of the different systems within a school.

However, the needs of each student differ greatly based on their genetics and life

experiences. Which is why taking a fair and equitable approach in dealing with each

student is crucial to their success as learners and people of society. Children need

different tools to help them work and achieve at their highest level.

The targeted area of improvement is our eighth grade lunch. Our current system is

not providing each student with the structure and security they need during this

consequential time in their lives. Over the past two years, our eighth grade lunch has been

the most unruly time of the day for our students. I have witnessed children; run around
the cafeteria, throw food, ignore adult redirections, fight, roam the building, scream and

curse. As a result of this anarchic segment of the day, our administrative team has

devised numerous solutions over the years but none have produced effective results. It

has been a prime example of the harder you push, the harder the system pushes back.

Two years ago our staff attempted to improve the system by establishing assigned

seating for all student lunches and by splitting eighth grade lunch into two separate lunch

periods. However, due to bell schedule constraints we were unable to maintain the two

separate lunch periods. But bell schedule aside, the two separate lunch periods did little to

curtail the knotty behavior. We have also tried designating certain classrooms to serve as

lunch detention locations. But these punitive measures simply created more defiant

behavior and did not reduce cafeteria bedlam.

Last year, our administrative team decided to relinquish assigned seating, hoping

that by allowing students to sit by their friends they may feel more inclined to remain

seated and behave. They also started letting students outside for a portion of the lunch

period hoping that they could expend some of their pent-up energy. But yet again, we

arrived another failed solution. Students were still running around the cafeteria, leaving

the cafeteria, roaming the building, fighting, throwing food, cursing, and avoiding their

next class during transition time.

This brings us to the current way our lunch process is handled. This school year

we have re-established assigned seating but maintained a brief student recess depending

on the weather. In our current system, eighth grade teachers are responsible for escorting

their classes to the lunchroom. Each classroom has been assigned a specific set of tables

within the cafeteria. Teachers are to remain with their students until an administrator or
cafeteria monitor gives them the go ahead to leave. The cafeteria monitors are comprised

of different student services staff support staff. The process of escorting students to the

cafeteria and waiting with them, can take anywhere from 5-7 minutes. Once eighth grade

teacher’s leave, administrators and cafeteria monitors are responsible for ensuring

students remain seated and don’t leave the cafeteria. However, cafeteria personnel do not

know where every student is supposed to sit and several teachers are reluctant to give up

any portion of their 30-minute lunch period therefore, they leave their section before they

are given permission. On teacher expressed to me that “our teacher contract guarantees

that we have a 30- minute uninterrupted lunch period. Why should I give up my lunch to

do someone else’s job.”

All of the data I have gathered has been through observation and teacher

conversations. One of my fellow eighth grade teachers expressed to me that they are

uncomfortable forfeiting 5 minutes daily 5 days a week. They explained that when the

time is added up they are missing one lunch period each week.

A different eighth teacher lamented that he is unable to escort his students

because he teaches another class during the transitional period from the classroom to the

cafeteria. Another teacher who is in her first year at Harding admitted that she simply

cannot control her students inside and especially outside of the classroom. Administrators

have also voiced the struggle in regulating the movement of 200 plus students. Simply

put, they feel it’s a lost cause if teachers don’t monitor their sections. There are several

organizational learning disabilities at play in this systems conundrum.

The first one being, I am my position. I believe that teachers, students, and

administrators see themselves exclusively as separate pieces on a disconnected puzzle.

They are unable to see the interdependences of their parts within the system. Several

students have expressed to me that the lunch period is the only portion of the day where

they can see their friends. As mentioned earlier, a majority of our students come from

neighborhoods across the North and East sides of Des Moines. Our boundary map

extends across a large section of the northern part of the city. Some of our students live

miles apart.

Harding middle school serves a transient population with student addresses

changing constantly. Due to geographic barriers and fluid residences our students do not

get the opportunity to interact outside of school. I believe this to be the root cause that

drives most of our behavior problems inside and outside of the cafeteria. Students are so

eager to see one another during lunch but are unequipped with the social and societal

norms of peer-to-peer interaction. This stems from a lack of opportunities to cultivate

strong healthy relationships with their classmates outside of school. Students see the

disciplinary measures of our lunchroom as just another barrier, further stunting their

social development.

The second organizational learning disability that has manifested itself in our

lunch debacle is the enemy is out there. Senge writes: “ the enemy is out there syndrome

is actually a by-product of I am my position…when we focus only on our position we do

not see how our own actions extend beyond the boundary of that position. “ (19). This

notion elucidated by Senge illustrates our staff and student bodies’ inability to see the

system as a whole, leaving them to assume that external factors are creating the

breakdowns within our system. Teachers blame administrators for lack of control,
administrators blame teachers and students for not following norms, and students blame

the adults for constantly trying to regulate their every move.

I believe our current reality to be in direct alignment with the shifting the burden

archetype. The root cause of our cafeteria problem is that students do not get enough time

to interact in a healthy manner outside of school. Therefore, they use their lunchtime as

an outlet, trying make for all the lost social time with their friends. Thus creating the

problem symptom of defiant behavior in the cafeteria.

Defiant cafeteria behavior is a blanket statement intended to illustrate all of the

observational data I have mentioned earlier. Running around, fighting, leaving the

lunchroom, and insubordination are just several examples of the problem symptom. The

problem symptom of defiant behavior was met with the symptomatic solution of assigned

seats, thus creating the side effect of more students leaving their seats and an increase in

defiant behavior. I believe the fundamental solution is to allot more time for students to

interact inside and outside of school. This archetype can be better understood by

observing the diagram pictured below.


In the diagram pictured above I have outlined the archetype of shifting the burden.

These archetype elements are all based off my observation and discussions with Harding

teachers, students, and administrators. I believe the root cause of this system issue to be

the result of insufficient social time. Our students do not get enough time to interact

inside and outside of school. After countless discussions with Harding students, I keep

hearing the same feedback; “ lunch is the only time we get to see all of our friends at

once.” The data has brought me to idea that perhaps the key stakeholders: students,

teachers, and administrators need to have a conversation about how to create additional

social time for our student population.

My proposal before implementing this initiative is to set time aside either during

lunch or after school so administrators can meet with some of the most difficult cafeteria

students. I think before an independent variable can be introduced to the situation both

sides must get a better understanding of the mental models at play. During this meeting
administrators can get a better idea of just what it is that motivates defiant cafeteria

behavior. Why are students leaving their seats? Why won’t students follow the rules and

responds to adult redirections? And most importantly, what type of additional social time

do you seek and how do you plan getting your classmates to support you? Since time is

of the essence it would be ideal to conduct several meetings within the same week and at

that end of the week have a solution that can be implemented the following week.

My proposed solution is a Friday fun day. This would be a bi-weekly after school

event taking place on Fridays from 3:00-5:00 p.m. This event would occur two times a

month and the other two weeks out of the moth would be used as for planning future

Friday fun days and data collection. Also the Friday fun day name is also subject to

change if a more creative name is provided. My vision for the Friday fun day is a safe,

adult supervised, social gathering for our eighth grade students. The gatherings would

consist of after school games, food, DJ, moon bounce, and other fun events. Student

family members and teachers would also be encouraged to serve as chaperones. Initially,

the Friday fun day would be strictly for eight graders. The only catch beimg that students

who attend the Friday fun day must adhere to lunchroom rules and procedures. In order to

be granted admittance to the Friday fun day, students would need to receive a positive

behavior rating for the week and have zero lunch detentions. Lunch detentions would be

determined by administrators and other cafeteria monitors.

In order ensure that lunchroom rules are being followed, administrators and

teachers who supervise the lunchroom would need to be educated on the specific

assigned seating areas. I would recommend each adult in the cafeteria be given a specific

section to monitor. Each section monitor would have a class-seating chart containing the
pictures and names of all the students in their assigned seating section. This would enable

adults to better to redirect unruly students. Adults would also be encouraged to tally

every time they see a student sitting the wrong seating section or displaying defiant

behavior. This is an important data gathering method that will be useful when assessing

the quality of the system improvement.

An additional data collection tool to determine the effectiveness of the plan is

through faculty and student testimony. Random students and adults could fill out surveys

or provide verbal feedback on the Friday fun days effectiveness in reducing problematic

cafeteria behavior. I believe the most leverage in this situation lies in the student’s

satisfaction with the change initiative. The Friday Fun day has to get kids excited. They

have to want to attend the event.


After the first month of implementing the system improvement you would like to

see positive feedback from students and staff. Hopefully, students are more compliant

with cafeteria rules due to more opportunities to interact and visit with their friends. After

the first month of implementation, the same students and administrators could meet and

discuss the plans going forward with future Friday fun days. Specific events, frequency

of Friday fun days, types of foods and games could all be the topics of discussion during

these meetings. Teachers could also offer feedback for how to proceed with future Friday

fun days.

I believe the system improvement should be deemed successful if fewer students

are leaving their seats, fighting, leaving the cafeteria, throwing food, and demonstrating

insubordination. The Friday fun day will not remove all negative behaviors, nor will it fill
the void of positive peer to peer interaction that so many of our students desperately need

and seek. But it is a step towards rectifying the root cause of a problem that perpetuates

negative behavior in our cafeteria and school. Even if it only reduces the defiant problem

behaviors in several students, it is still a systems improvement.

I think when looking at the data it is important to be mindful of the systems law

“there is no blame.” Senge explains “ we all tend to blame someone else-the competitors,

the press, changing mood of marketplace, the government- for our problems. Systems

thinking shows us that there is no separate “other”: that you and someone else are part of

a single system.” (67). Therefore, there is and should never be blame. Whether the study

indicates positive results and improvements, or shows that the change initiative was a

miserable fail, there must never be blame. All parties involved: students, teachers, and

administrators are all part of the same system. It’s not the individual who fails, but rather

a breakdown in the system.


Once data has been gathered over an extended period of time it will be time to

reassess the quality of the system improvement. Since feedback will be gathered on a

month-to-month basis, as a building leader I would let the following questions guide our

discussions about our current reality and future systems improvements for eighth grade

lunch: Has there been a reduction in negative behaviors in the cafeteria? Are teachers still

struggling to get their students seated in their designated seating areas? Are adults

monitoring seating sections able to keep students in their assigned seats? Are kids excited

about the change imitative? Have we made a dent in the root cause or have we created
tomorrow’s problems from today’s solutions? Has the root caused of the problem evolved

into something else? Do students have a voice in the work we are doing? Do teachers feel


As a building leader I would advocate for continued feedback from all

stakeholders. I would continue allot time in the week to meet with students and teachers

to better understand their mental models. I would remind myself and staff members that

we all comprise parts in this system. The parts of the system we are analyzing are

interdependent. Therefore, our success and failures do not fall back on one individual or a

group of individuals. When working in a system, there is no blame.

Works Cited

Senge, Peter. The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization.

Crown Business, 1990, 2006.


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