Upstream Thinking . . . How to Change the System

“The idea of this work is that you are part of something bigger than yourself . . . You’re not helpless.  You have an enormous amount of individual power and collective power . . . ”

~ Anthony Iton

The quote above comes from Anthony Iton. Iton’s story is featured in the book Upstream.  In 2010, Iton helped to create and lead an ambitious program called Building Healthy Communities. The vision of Iton’s team was to start with power. He wanted to show the citizens in California’s most challenged neighborhoods how to fight for themselves and reshape their environments. So, as a teacher, how are you supporting your students across the boundaries of race, culture, class, and age in an effort to improve and reshape their school culture and climate? How will you change the system? What is it that you can do as an individual and collectively to influence and impact student outcomes?  

To begin to address these questions, let’s start with the research. According to John Hattie, based on a synthesis of more than 1,500 meta-analyses, collective teacher efficacy has an effect size of 1.57 on student learning and achievement. The findings in a study conducted by Susan Johnson suggest that the perception of collective efficacy is significantly affected when teachers collaborate compared to those who do not. Further, it was found that when teachers collaborated three or more times per week, collective efficacy perceptions were significantly and positively affected.  Knowing and applying the research can help you chart a course to change the system within your classroom and school. How might you prioritize participation in teacher collaborative routines?  How will your actions lead to increased collective teacher efficacy that positively impacts you and your colleagues along with improving and reshaping the school culture and climate for your students?   

Another piece of research comes from Jay McTighe and Elliott Seif who co-authored the article, “An Implementation Framework to Support 21st Century Skills.”  They identify ten learning principles that reflect research and best practice to guide instruction.  Two of these principles are:

  • Learning is purposeful and contextual. Therefore, students should be helped to see the purpose in what they are asked to learn.  Learning should be framed by relevant questions, meaningful challenges, and authentic applications.
  • Experts organize or chunk their knowledge around transferable, core concepts (“big ideas”) that guide their thinking about the domain and help them integrate new knowledge.  Therefore, content instruction should be framed in terms of core ideas and transferable processes, not as discrete facts and skills.

As we are planning instruction, how might upstream thinking support us in anticipating a possible lack of engagement?  By helping students see the purpose in what they are learning, contextualize this learning to their own background and environment, and help them to chunk their learning to guide their thinking, we are being proactive in addressing possible barriers.  What conversations might you and your colleagues engage with in order to ensure that these principles are taking place in your classrooms?  How will your actions lead to increased student achievement?  As you reflect on this information, it’s important to recognize that you have an enormous amount of individual and collective power.  It is up to you what you do with this knowledge.