Upstream Thinking . . . Where to find a point of leverage?

“I lurked outside our school on a chilly January morning, and when I saw Jabari’s mom drop him off, I commenced my project.  Wearing jeans and fleece, carrying a backpack, and only about 5 feet tall, I easily blended in with students. . . . What I observed that day will never leave me.”

~ Elena Aguilar

In Elena Aguilar’s book Coaching for Equity: Conversations That Change Practice, a scenario perfectly depicts getting closer to the problem.  In this example, based on achievement data around African American students, the Instructional Leadership Team (ILT) determined that equity would be the school’s focus or goal.  To prove or disprove causation, the team determined that getting closer to the problem would be the best way to gather additional data.  One of the ILT members who could easily blend in shadowed a student, Jabari, for a day without the student knowing he was being shadowed.  Using a teacher-to-student interaction tracker, the ILT member tracked every exchange an adult had with Jabari.  Of the interactions noted, 68% were in the negative category, 20% were neutral, and 12% were positive.  The data showed that the majority of the adult comments that were made to Jabari focused on his body and behavior.  Jabari seemed to be a compliant young man and did as he was told.  “Of the 14 different adults who interacted with Jabari that day, only one expressed care: ‘Nice to see you today, Jabari,’ she said.  Very little was said about his thinking, writing, reading, or anything related to his academics.  He was never called on or praised.”

This ILT could have used staff and student perception data to determine if there was an equity issue and possible cause(s).  More than likely, however, that data might not tell the true picture of “the day in the life of a student.” Getting closer to the problem provided the team with leverage points to better understand their data and the causations that could be action-planned around.  As it relates to interrupting inequity, there are many factors that are outside of adults’ control.  By adults focusing on the factors that they have control of, including how kids are talked to every day, the instructional strategies used, and what the children are asked to do while in the classrooms, gives actionable steps that can be monitored and tweaked.  With that being said, how might improvement cycles be utilized for implementing a strategy which ultimately interrupts inequity? What might be the input? Processes?  Desired output?  How might feedback be used to make adjustments to the input and/or processes for each iteration?  What is the evidence to know that the desired goal has been achieved?  

As we discussed above, an example was used of getting closer to a problem in order to identify leverage points. Can you think of situations where you consciously pushed yourself closer to the source of a problem and, as a result, you uncovered some solutions that might have otherwise been hidden?