Tetrahedronics is all about seeing how things work as a system. In other entries in this site, you’ll find why there needs to be at least 5 elements in every system, and how systems thinking is necessary in order to understand and therefore solve some of the issues facing our world, and, especially for tuition-charging PK-12 schools, some of the issues facing your school.

The typical person can hold 3 thoughts in mind simultaneously.  If you remember Sesame Street, there was a produced segment that featured a small child being sent to the store for loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter.  He was proud of himself when he returned home remembering the assignment his mother gave him.  Unfortunately, that’s what most people can remember.  Three things.  That’s why so many leadership diagrams today have three circles which enunciate three concepts.  This focus on “3” is why lists become important, as they helps us remember tasks consisting of more than 3 items.

When Apple introduced the iPhone, Steven Jobs said it could do three things because it was a telephone, a music player, and a device that could access the Internet. After the cheers subsided, everyone found out that the standard software included a camera. Not only was it clever marketing not to announce this ability, since announcing it could cause many camera developers to get even more entrenched into the smartphone market, but only a few people would remember the three main concepts present in the presentation. To introduce a fourth would have many folks saying, “It’s a phone, a camera and a music player,” while others said, “It’s a camera, a phone, and a device to access the Internet.” The conversation between those two individuals cited could cause an argument, when, in reality, they’re both right.

That’s one of our challenges as human beings – we need to be able to hold more thoughts in mind at the same time. Learners in the classroom do this by employing mnemonic devices (such as remembering the first letters of each line of a multi-elemental list), but when such information is submitted for an exam to assess the learning, the elements are forgotten if the mnemonic devices are not reinforced.  If you’ve been a visitor to SchoolAdvancement, you’ll recognize a number of acronyms to help you remember the elements of a system.  Most notably, what started out as DREAM has become ARMED, as the letters stand for the elements of Advancement – Asset Management, Retention, Marketing, Enrollment and Development.  Interestingly, that’s the priority order as well.  If you’d like more information about why these elements function as a system, AND are aligned in that particular way, send an email to [email protected] with the words “System Element Alignment” in the subject line.

3>4>5 (That’s short for “Three leads to Four leads to Five) not only asserts that we have to be able to hold 4 elements in mind simultaneously, but we have to somehow get to five!  Individuals have asked me, “Then what’s the 5th item in the iPhone?” I’ve responded that the 5th element in any system is sometimes very difficult to find, but once it’s identified, the answer is so obvious that the reaction usually is, “Of course! I should have known that!”

The 5th element of the iPhone is its ability to be a personal digital assistant – a PDA. I was a user of Palm prior to the Smartphone era, and even lamented the fact that some productivity applications that I had on my Palm weren’t available for iPhone, Droid, Windows or Blackberry. I even contacted a friend who wrote great Palm applications who told me he had no intention of learning a new programming language, so he wouldn’t be making his product available to the popularity explosion of handheld computers.

The PDA had a calendar, a task list, contacts listings and a journal function, but it wasn’t a phone, a camera, a device that could play music, and it certainly couldn’t access the Internet.  However, the iPhone can do all those things that the PDA did.

Do we use them all at the same time? No. But do we know all those things are there and at our disposal? Yes – but we have to think about it. Here’s an example. All members of my family now have Smartphones. We use it as a phone, a camera, a PDA (calendaring, etc.) and a music player. But riding in the car, sometimes an argument ensued over when a movie was released, or what makes all-purpose flour different from self-rising flour. The discussion continued for a bit, then all fell silent until one of the children proclaimed the correct answer.  Why the silence?  They were looking up the answer on the Internet.

Keep looking for those 4th and 5th elements, and the systems you’re working with will start to make sense.  Remember, the 4th element is one that is closely related to one or all of the three, and the 5th one will tie them all together.  Here’s another example.  There are actually 5 learning styles.  The three that everyone in education as well as professional development in the corporate world are Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic (or Tactile).  However, technology has helped to define the 4th.  It’s the Representational learner.  Visual is someone who has a learning preference for what they see.  Reading was always considered to be a Visual strategy, but when you consider that watching a video or a movie is more “visual” that reading is, then one can understand that reading is a representation of words and their meanings, which helps to understand why some learners have difficulty with reading, and how those with dyslexia can still be learners with a visual learning preference.  The 5th element is the one that is connected to all four of these strategies, but is often overlooked.  In this case, it would be the “Mentoral” learner.  It’s the learner that needs a teacher or a coach to encourage them and guide their learning.  While that may be a bit difficult to grasp, consider that all four learning styles mentioned do not require a teacher to be present for learning to occur.  Someone can see something, hear something, do something or read something and if a change in their perspective or understanding occurs, learning has taken place.  However, for those students that “just can’t get it” until someone explains it to them, those are are learners that need the teacher.  The teacher is the expert who can evaluate each of their students to determine which preferred learning style each of them has, and establish a strategy for each to achieve to their full potential.

Taking this concept a little further, there’s an “overarching” result of the five systemic elements…which would be the “Experiential” learner, since all five elements are essential for the optimal experience of learning.  It can be said that it’s the “Experience of the experience,” which is a very “meta” concept.  If you agress, does this realization shed a new light on the role of the teacher?  If you answered yes, then the system is working.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2012-2022