Season 5, Episode 7 of the FocusED School Leadership Podcast with Guest Luke Roberts

by | Feb 15, 2024 | 0 comments

6 min read

Systems Thinking for School Leadership and Educational Reform with Luke Roberts

This is Season 5, Episode 7 of FocusED, and it features our guest, Luke Roberts. It was originally recorded in front of a live audience in Delaware and provided as a professional development experience in collaboration with the Delaware Department of Education, Wilmington University, and The School House 302. Don’t miss what Luke Roberts says about systems thinking in schools and how the next phase of our leadership approach to change should not be linear in nature…and much more.


Luke Roberts Brings a Tons of Experience to FocusED Listeners

Dr. Luke Roberts has worked in education in the UK for over 20 years to address issues of conflict, bullying, and educational opportunities. He worked on the national evaluation of restorative justice in schools before becoming a practitioner and trainer. 

He became increasingly concerned that the whole school approach was not working and did an MBA and M.Ed. before completing his Ph.D. exploring schools as complex adaptive systems. This reframing of schools is central to his book and seeks to address the challenge of why innovation does not last in educational settings. 

He has also worked in communities and prison settings to promote conflict resolution. He joined Highfive in the USA as Chief Innovation Officer to promote sustainable solutions to educational challenges. 

He also advises government departments on system approaches and is a visiting lecturer at Cambridge University and the Royal College of Arts. His recent book is called Leading Schools and Sustaining Innovation. You can follow Dr. Luke Roberts on X: @LukeshRoberts.

FocusED Show Notes with Luke Roberts

Following his PhD, Luke wrote this book to make sure leaders can understand complexity without being too challenged by academic literature. 

Luke wants leaders to have a usable framework for sustaining innovation. 

Luke says schools are much more like beehives than machines. In machines, you can take parts out, but beehives are much more interconnected. 

He talked about the hub and spoke model of school leadership whereby all of the spokes are centered on the leader. Then, when the leader leaves, the innovations die. Dr. Roberts tells a real story about this happening. 

One problem that we discuss is that humans like power and actually like the fact that the system revolves around them. 

Listen to what he says about being in a production mind versus being a gardener. This requires an identity shift for the school leader. 

The conversation about the network effect in schools is fascinating, especially since it deviates from the traditional hub and spoke model.

Joe asked about the next steps that leaders can take to work toward the networked model. 

No one perspective is going to solve the problem. 

Don’t miss what he says about zooming out and validating history before moving forward. 

Systems thinking is much different than change theory, which Luke says is part of the problem. Change theory is often linear and “beehives” are not linear organizations.    

Luke calls for a greater focus on young people’s futures and schools that spend time on students’ sense of identity and how they will interact with society in the future. 

Joe underscores the fact school is often something that is done to students rather than for them. 

Dr. Roberts talks about injecting creativity into the system so that more educators are working in a safe space where they can be creative in the way they think about changing their schools. 

We need the ability to play with boundaries, including time and the way the day unfolds. The structures of the day can limit people’s ability to think creatively and change the future of the environment. 

Luke says that once you start to see systems, it’s so hard to unsee them. He references Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a systems thinker. 

Luke asks the audience to ponder how we think about change, not reduce but increase what we should do. 

Books that Luke Roberts Mentions on FocusED

The Grasshopper by Bernard Suits 


Related School Leadership Content Based on This Show

Season 4, Episode 14 with Nathan Maynard and Luke Roberts

Leading Better and Growing Faster with Guest Nathan Maynard


Thanks for listening to FocusED, an educational leadership podcast brought to you by TheSchoolHouse302 @, where we publish free leadership content. Go to the site, subscribe, and you’ll get all of our content sent directly to your email. 

FocusED is your educational leadership podcast where our mission is to dissect a particular focus for teachers and school leaders so that you can learn to lead better and grow faster in your school or district. Let us know who you would like to hear from next. 


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