Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

First Advisor

Alan Tinkler


In the 21st century, transdisciplinary approaches to research and problem solving rooted in complexity theory and complex systems methodologies offer hope for understanding and solving previously intractable problems. However, in the face of daunting modern challenges like a broken health care system, growing social and economic inequity, and climate change, the knowledge and skills required to understand and ultimately solve problems across interdependent complex systems are distinctly lacking in our collective practice.

The underlying premise of this study is that if modern society is to deal effectively with interconnected challenges across ecological, social, political, and economic systems, our education system must prepare students to grapple with complexity. This research expands upon previously identified core complex systems knowledge, skills, and dispositions to contribute rich description to a working definition of the term systems literacy, develop a theory of how one becomes systems literate, and offer access points for educators entering the world of complexity.

The study employed complexity-informed grounded theory methods including data from semi-structured interviews with complex systems scholars and educators across a wide range of academic disciplines. Additional data was gleaned from texts and online resources produced by systems educators and complexity scholars.

The three resulting journal articles were designed to consolidate much of what is known about complex systems into a package that is useful for educators, school leaders, and other stakeholders. Together, these articles contribute to an understanding of how curricula and instruction might better emphasize the dynamic nature of interdependent complex systems and the agency of individuals and collectives to innovate, engage in authentic problem solving, and participate in actively preserving and reshaping the world in which we live.



Number of Pages

171 p.

Included in

Education Commons