About Caitlin S. Steele

Caitlin S. Steele is a graduate teaching fellow, research assistant, and doctoral candidate in the University of Vermont's Ph.D. program in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. Her research focuses on complex systems as an interdisciplinary lens in K-12 curricula. Through her dissertation, she is exploring the concept of systems literacy and questions around how one becomes systems literate. Before arriving at UVM, Caitlin taught English for twelve years. In 2009, she received a Rowland Foundation Fellowship to support her work collaborating with colleagues across disciplines to develop a sustainability-themed freshman academy. She continues to work closely with the Rowland Foundation, serving as a Rowland Associate organizing professional collaboration among past and current fellows located across the state of Vermont and beyond.

Bill McKibben: Humble Leader

“Wilderness and Gandhian nonviolence were the two most potentially revolutionary ideas of the twentieth century, precisely because they were the two most humble: they imagine a whole different possibility for people.”

– Bill McKibben, Wandering Home, 2005

I was in high school in the early 90s when I first heard of Bill McKibben and his famously dark environmental text, The End of Nature (1989).  But it wasn’t until my husband and I moved back east nine years ago, to Middlebury, Vermont, where McKibben works these days, that I grew a bit fixated on him.  A global figure in the environmental movement, he became my local hero.  In the years that followed, I devoured his books and articles, following his global organizing and political action with 350.org, cheering his acts of civil disobedience, and eagerly streaming his appearances on Letterman, The Colbert Report, and Democracy Now! Continue reading

Learning to Write at the Doctoral Level

I love learning.   I read a lot for work and school; watch documentaries, news clips, TED Talks, and the like for fun; and listen to audiobooks, radio, and podcasts while driving, working out, and cleaning.  One result of ingesting so much information is that I often have myriad ideas banging up against one another in my head.  Though I take in a lot of information on any given day, I find I rarely achieve a deeper sense of learning unless I also make time to write.  Whether that writing takes the form of a twenty-page term paper or a one-line Facebook post, taking time to decide what matters and how to articulate it increases my level of understanding of and connection to the topic foremost in my mind at the moment. Continue reading

Systems Approaches to School Change

School change is hard.  It doesn’t always go as planned.  In my last post (which you can read here), I made the case (with the help of Professor Tammy Kolbe) that this is true because education is a complex system.  The good news is that systems theorists have been working on the problem of change in complex systems for a few decades now.  In this second post I share a few big ideas from the literature on systems, schools, and change that I think can be immediately useful to education innovators.  Continue reading

The Complexity of School Change

We talk about the education system all the time.  When we do, our mental images can look like organizational flow charts representing school and district structures.  Students answer to teachers, who answer to administrators, who communicate with the central office, and on up the chain of command.  It‘s easy to imagine direct lines of communication, authority, and power. Continue reading