Schedule & Core Modules

July 10 - 14 | Vernon, NJ

Camp Snowball provides many opportunities for you to learn new concepts and tools, practice them, and share your own experiences. You can experiment with new skills and approaches and learn from each other as well as the faculty, hosts, and provocateurs. The week is designed to deepen and scale your knowledge and allow you to immediately integrate and use it once back in your school and district.

Camp Snowball Schedule

Core Modules

Core modules are central to your learning during Camp Snowball. These in-depth capacity building sessions will help develop your systems thinking skills and provide a chance to apply them to a focus area, whether a particular subject, a leadership challenge, or an age level. Each participant will choose a core module and spend approximately 13 hours exploring that topic.


Core Module Topics

  • An Introduction to Systems Thinking for Elementary School
  • Enabling Student-Centered Learning Through Systems Thinking
  • Equity and Privilege: Applying Systems Tools to a Deeply Rooted and Emotionally-Charged Issue
  • Find Your Voice, Take the Lead
  • Hand-on, Minds-on Approach to Becoming a Systems Thinker
  • Leading for Effective Learning: Systems Thinking and Organizational Learning in Schools and Districts
  • Systems Thinking to integrate Diverse Frameworks & initiatives for Coherent Interventions: The Red Thread


Core Module Descriptions

An Introduction to Systems Thinking for Elementary Schools

Maria Simpson (Elementary Teacher) and Karen Abbott (Special Education Resource Teacher)

Systems thinking is a core competency for developing critical thinking skills. It provides a set of analytical tools, concepts, and habits that help deal with complex situations by looking at the potential consequences of our actions and identify leverage points that enable us to make better decisions.

This module will introduce how to use Systems Thinking to connect other effective teaching and learning practices, the Common Core State Standards, and school improvement efforts, using examples and applications from elementary education. Participants:

  • develop skills and knowledge in systems thinking concepts and tools.
  • experience, practice, and apply these tools to practical situations, as a teacher and as a student.
  • use systems thinking tools to analyze complex issues and identify high-leverage interventions.
  • create and share a plan of action relevant to their work.

Enabling Student-Centered Learning Through Systems Thinking

Kristi Ponder (Ritenour High School, Ritenour, MO)

What does it take to provide a learning environment for your students that challenges them and prepares them for life after their K-12 education? This module, for K-12th grade teachers,  will focus on how to create a student-centered learning environment in order to increase every student’s academic growth.  Collaborate with other participants on how to elicit higher level thinking skills in your students by modifying or developing a lesson that incorporates systems thinking skills, differentiation, student goal setting, meaningful feedback and formative assessment practices.  Do you have a curriculum unit that you feel isn’tdelivering the results you’d like it to?  Bring it with you and get peer and expert coaching so that it can provide more value for your students.  Incorporating some of the visual tools of systems thinking helps you gauge where a student is having difficulty and you can adjust your teaching in real time.  We will apply these strategies to improve our teaching, and also plan how we can embody and model them to help our students improve their learning.


Equity and Privilege: Applying Systems Tools to a Deeply Rooted and Emotionally-Charged Issue

Janice Jackson (Independent Education Consultant

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center 1 in the last year K-12 educators have reported a significant uptick in bullying and harassment in schools against several groups. Educators reported that they have heard derogatory language directed at students of color, Muslims, immigrants and others based on gender or sexual orientation. Approximately 50% of teachers expressed a hesitance to engage in civic political discourse. Though lower in numbers, children who express support for Trump have also been bullied and harassed. This situation has led to increased anxiety for some students. Our children are looking to us to help them have tools to address the present situation. Inequity and discrimination are built into the systems of our society. Bonilla-Silva posits that racism can exist without racists. 2 It is time that we accept the challenge to understand ideas that appear to be disparate and find respect for each other.

Educators can choose to interrupt the inequity that occurs in their sphere of power and influence. In order to interrupt inequitable policies, practices, and procedure we need to take action that begins with understanding our own identity, core values, and beliefs. We need to be guided by a different set of questions and ideas. In this module participants will explore mental models, strategies, and tools for equity-centered leadership. Participants will identity places where we have choices and can make decisions that lead to success for each and every child. Leaders at the classroom, school, district and community level, including students, educators, parents and community members are encouraged to participate.

Participants, using the systems thinking approach, will:

  • examine the current state of equity in schools.
  • work together to identify mental models that are causing the current reality, including their own.
  • develop strategies for how leaders can effect transformational change in their districts through shifts in thinking and in action.


Find Your Voice, Take the Lead!

Dianne Lam (program assistant at the Social Systems Design Lab at the Brown School at Washington University in Saint Louis), Desiree Chrun (freshman at the University of Missouri) and Trevor Hicks (student at Harris-Stowe State University and a program assistant at the Social Systems Design Lab at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis)

Student voice is a powerful component in a healthy school community and, if leveraged, can be an effective means to create change in education. Students need to be given opportunities to make decisions that impact their lives in school and as citizens of a global society. They need to know how to think critically, manage complexity, and step confidently and competently into leadership roles. Whether new to systems thinking or with some experience, this module, designed for students and their teachers, will provide a chance to learn and use systems thinking tools and habits by applying them to issues that matter most to the participants. With this approach, students will make a difference in their school, family, community, and the world.

As a participant in this module, you will:

    • Discover the power of student voice.
    • Think critically about what you’re passionate about.
    • Learn and practice the habits and tools of systems thinking.
    • Take part in a process that will help you make a difference in your school, home, community.
    • Develop actionable ideas to implement for systems change.


Hand-on, Minds-on Approach to Becoming a Systems Thinker

Tracy Benson (President of the Waters Foundation)

Becoming a systems thinker is a learning process that involves both understanding and action. Benjamin Franklin once advised, “Tell me I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Learning by doing will be the focus of this module. Come experience and learn practical and engaging ways to build your systems thinking capacity and leave Camp Snowball with strategies to help you share and practice with others.

Participants will

  • be involved in hands-on exercises to learn and deepen systems thinking habits and tools.
  • be provided facilitation tips to help bring those exercises back home.
  • create a plan that will include ways to share their learning with others.
  • have lots of fun in the process.

Participation is open to all ages and levels of systems thinking experience.


Leading for Effective Learning: Systems Thinking and Organizational Learning in Schools and Districts

Beth Heller (Senior Director of Education and Strategic Planning at the Urban Ecology Center) and Ken Leinbach (nationally recognized educator and leader in community-based environmental education)

Leading for Learning provides an experiential introduction to systems thinking and organizational learning tools as they are applied to shaping the culture of organizations and the leadership issues that you are grappling with like:
  •   initiating and sustaining change in your organization
  •   identifying leverage points for action
  •   gaining commitment vs. compliance
  •   visioning as an ongoing process
This workshop will give each participant an opportunity to explore their innate capacities as a leader and to clarify their own developmental steps going forward. It will help you
  • clarify and re-commit to your personal vision
  • explore tools and practices for enabling better conversations that bring out the team’s wisdom—especially around complex subjects where differing views and strong emotions are often involved
  • use basic systems thinking tools to create shared understanding about your organization
  • identify higher leverage change strategies.
Rarely do we take the time to learn, reflect, and practice translating new understandings and skills into the day-to-daycontext of our work. We hope you’ll take advantage of this opportunity.


Systems Thinking to Integrate Diverse Frameworks & Initiatives for Coherent Interventions: The Red Thread

Sheri Marlin (program coordinator for the Waters Foundation)

A systems thinker makes connections within and between systems. 

Schools and school systems can use systems thinking to become highly effective learning organizations that produce solid achievement results. Using systems thinking tools and skills can help move from “quick fixes” and silver bullets to fundamental, long-term solutions that enable school systems to deliver on the promise of a quality education for every child in their wholeness.

Using systems thinking helps school leaders:

  • create coherence among instructional models, content area standards, and special programs.
  • connect different professional development programs so they reinforce each other, reducing work and distraction for teachers.
  • identify the ways individual theories of practice and approaches can fit into an integrated framework that produces high quality learning and improving outcomes.

Approaching these complex issues from a holistic, systemic approach requires a paradigm shift. It means moving from reliance on “programs” to a longer-term, more inclusive perspective where a district can identify the system and leverage the “connective tissue” (tools, analysis, relationships, and conversations) that are needed for districts to be proactive, innovative, trusting, and successful.

Systems thinking can provide district leaders with the means to do this work more effectively and ultimately to transform opportunities for student learning.

In this core module, participants:

  • learn how to build a sense of coherence and consistency among different initiatives over time to offset “initiative fatigue.”
  • find the common threads in the work of theorists like Fullan, Danielson, Dweck, Defour, Tomlinson and others and practicing the systems thinking habit “Makes connections within and between systems.”
  • identify how systems thinking builds capacity to meet the increasing demands on the education system.
  • determine a process for clarifying desired results.
  • creating an action plan to focus a system on achieving those results.

In the complex craft of weaving, using a “red thread” has a long history. Red threads are woven into the cloth in tiny proportions in order to bring out the vibrancy of the other, visually dominant colors. The red thread is a useful metaphor for examining how systems thinking can support and enhance and integrate the power and vibrancy of the many programs, theories, pedagogies and initiatives currently at play in education to benefit all students.


Sharing Your Work

We want to learn from you! There are several ways to share the work that you are already doing:

  • Take part in the Project Marketplace. Bring examples of work from your organization, school or class that explores one of the four key focus areas of Camp Snowball: systems thinking and system dynamics; education for sustainability; youth engagement; or organizational learning at a school or district level. HINT: Start collecting that work now. You will have a 4′ x 8′ posterboard and a table on which to display your work.
  • Apply to do a Pecha Kucha presentation about the cool work that you are doing. What’s a Pecha Kucha? It is a way to present a lot of material quickly and concisely (with fun and energy thrown in). These presentations must be related to this summer’s theme: Partnering for Success: Meeting the Learning Needs of All Students. “PechaKucha” comes from the Japanese term for the sound of conversation or “chit chat.” Each presenter brings exactly 20 slides and gets 20 seconds per slide to speak to each. The slides are on automatic advance, which keeps things moving at a rapid pace. It’s amazing how much people can share in 6 minutes and 40 seconds. HINT: Start planning your presentation now.Photographs work better then slides.

Hosted By

“Camp Snowball is a powerful week-long learning experience that has acquainted our organization with new resources and tools that are transforming our relationships and ways of working together. We are learning strategies to include new leadership voices, better analyze the root causes of our most daunting educational challenges, and become more accountable to each other, parents, students, and community.”

L. Karen Monroe

Superintendent of Schools, Alameda County, CA