Upstream Thinking . . . How to avoid harm?

“ . . . we don’t succeed by foreseeing the future accurately.  We succeed by ensuring that we’ll have the feedback we need to navigate.”

~ Dan Heath

The above quote references feedback . . . when you think of feedback, what comes to mind?  Did you think about improvement cycles? If you did, you understand that feedback is an important component of the recursive/iterative cycle.  Remember that the purpose of an improvement cycle (input, process, output, feedback ~ IPOF model) is to implement practices and to put systems in place to improve student outcomes. 

Based on data, you first begin with your district/school focus or goal and determine what input will be needed to accomplish that goal.  Your input can be an implementation plan/strategy/guide, a vision . . . in other words, the input directs the thinking within an improvement cycle. The process describes the actions, denoted by role, that must be taken for the input to be effective. The process also addresses the interconnection between different components of the system. Output is what you get after you apply the input-aligned actions identified within the process.  And, feedback, based on data, compares the actual results to the desired results, in other words, what is happening or not happening.  Feedback is a critical component as it supports teams in adjusting their input and/or process(es) to meet the desired output.

As you complete each iteration of your improvement cycle, consider these prompts to guide your thinking around feedback.

  • What outcomes or results have you seen so far?  How might these outcomes influence your actions for the next cycle?
  • What feedback came out of any initial data reviews and discussion?
  • How was this communicated to those who need to change their actions?
  • Are you going to run a second iteration of this data?  If so, will any questions or datasets change?
  • How long will your next cycle need to be to gather and report data?
  • Is the feedback leading to changes in practice?
  • How frequently should you monitor and review these cycles to be able to effectively improve practice?

You might be wondering . . . what do improvement cycles and feedback have to do with being an upstream organization?  According to the National Implementation Research Network (NIRN), “improvement cycles support the purposeful process of change.” (NIRN, n.d.)  Notice the use of the word purposeful . . . upstream organizations are purposeful in their planning and using cycles of improvement to change over time.  Purposeful feedback will help achieve your desired outcomes!

The Leader’s and Teacher’s Corner sections will support you with deeper thinking around how to avoid doing harm by looking beyond the immediate, closing feedback loops, remembering to “test”, as well as avoiding being overconfident.