The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog

Improving Student Achievement at the Urbandale Community School District

by    

Deming Institute podcast icon

Dr. Doug Stilwell, Superintendent of the Urbandale Community School District discusses applying Deming management methods in education (download the podcast).

As Dr. Deming said “The people are not the problem, it’s the system.

Doug talks about how many initiatives (from the state legislature and the department of education) he has seen in his 35 year career.

One would think with all those initiatives you would have seen some change in achievement and we saw none. That told me, the big aha was, none of those attempts, while well intended, had any impact. That caused me to think back to Deming; is that unless we take a system approach we’re doomed to fail.

So thats what led me to look at where I have the leverage, which is in Urbandale, to begin to make those improvements. To look at our system, begin to make improvements in those systems, and as we are seeing now, we are seeing improvements in student achievement.

Doug also provides advice that is valuable for all leaders

After 3 years of laying that foundations we at that point said “we have communicated where we are going, now we are going there.” And so we laid some expectations – “we want to see it implemented to this level.” And of course we have received some push back.

And so we have to stop and think “what do we do about that pushback?” I can wield the superintendent’s authority and force people and I know exactly what will happen. They’ll resist; as I would. So it is this continuing, ongoing process of trying to educate people, give them opportunities to practice, supporting them, pointing out when folks have been successful what the results have been, to try and help people come to the same conclusion I have that whether you are looking at the district as a whole, or a building or a classroom its a system.


Relying on authority to force change is never ideal. It is much better to help people want to adopt the change. Sometimes that does take pushing people a bit to learn and try new things. And at times you do have to resort to using authority to demand change, but that is something to avoid when possible.

Doug also discusses how to build trust in the organization by thinking of the organization as a system. Interpersonal behavior is important but trust requires more than just trust of how people will behave with each other but that the processes within the organization inspire trust. This webcast shows Doug’s related presentation at The W. Edwards Deming Institute 2014 conference.

Doug Stilwell – Trust As A Systemic Structure For Innovation In Schools And Organizations from The W. Edwards Deming Institute.

Related: Monta Akin on The 20 Year Deming Journey at the Leander Independent School District in TexasDeming’s Ideas Applied in High School EducationAttributing Fault to the Person Without Considering the System


Categorised as: education, podcast, systems thinking


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.