Upstream Thinking . . . How to avoid harm?

“Make a habit of two things: to help; or at least to do no harm.”

~ Hippocrates

The Hippocratic Oath is one of the most widely known codes of ethics.  The theme of this oath is the idea that the individual is making a personal dedication to ethical and committed care. The oath is seen as an ideal for the practice of medicine with the guiding principle of putting the patient first.  Now let’s take this oath and apply it to the field of education.  Shouldn’t teachers make the same personal dedication to ethical and committed care of their students?  Shouldn’t teachers put students first?  Absolutely!  As an educator, the Hippocratic Oath serves as a reminder that you work with individual human beings and are in a position of influence with the potential for making a lasting impact on your students.  And therefore, it’s vital to cautiously approach your role toward each student.  Educational harm may not be the same as harm caused by a failed surgery or a treatment that has been misprescribed, however, what about the harm caused by not doing what is best for each student?

Education is about learning . . . learning even from the errors and failures we make.  Prompt and reliable feedback is needed for experimentation to succeed.  It is feedback that spurs improvement.  Heath addresses the concept of feedback numerous times throughout Chapter 10.  He recounts a conversation he had with Andy Hackbarth, a former RAND Corporation researcher, who also helped design measurement systems for Medicare and Medicaid.  Heath asked Hackbarth what advice he would give to people who were designing systems to make the world better.  Hackbarth replied, “The only way you’re going to know it’s wrong is by having these feedback mechanisms and these measurement systems in place.” (Heath, 2020, p. 180)

What are some of the feedback mechanisms and measurement systems that Blueprint districts have in place?  One that readily comes to mind is Teacher Collaborative Routines.  Each of the categories: Instructional Design and Delivery, Deepening Knowledge of Student Learning, and Collegial Reflective Practice, enable teachers to collaborate together and offer feedback around what is and what is not working with students.  One practice found within Deepening Knowledge of Student Learning is, Teachers collaborate to collect and analyze data using the district-selected protocol to monitor the learning of each student.  The feedback garnered from the analysis of data can help teachers prescribe the most effective course of action needed for each student.

John Hattie has long researched performance indicators and evaluation in education.  He wanted to understand which variables were the most important. Hattie set about calculating a score or “effect size” for each variable, according to its bearing on student learning. The average effect size was 0.4, a marker that represented a year’s growth per year of schooling for a student. Anything above 0.4 would have a greater positive effect on student learning. With an effect size of .70, feedback is almost double that of the average effect size.  Feedback is an effective instructional strategy that is applicable across disciplines and grades.

Within the category of Collegial Reflective Practice, one particular practice focuses on feedback and self-reflection.  The practice states, Teachers offer each other informal feedback on their instruction.  Teachers work together to build their capacity for success.  Feedback is crucial for both teachers and students.  

Just as a physician makes adjustments to their treatment of patients, a teacher makes adjustments based on feedback and self-reflection so that they are able to uphold the “do no harm” principle as an educator.  How might feedback and self-reflection support your own growth as an educator?  What might you need to be intentional about within yourself as you collaborate with your peers?