Upstream Thinking . . . You, Upstream

“Don’t obsess about formulating the perfect solution before you begin your work; instead, take ownership of the underlying problem and start slogging forward.”  

~ Dan Heath

The above quote reminds me of Nike’s motto, ‘Just Do It’.  Let’s take it a few steps further.  How about, ‘Just do it, then improve it, and then do it again.’  Once again, connections to Improvement Cycles and the Michigan Continuous Improvement Process (MICIP) can be made.  Heath’s reference of what he calls the Scoreboard Model is similar in purpose to an improvement cycle-like model.  He reminds readers that data should be used for learning, not used for inspection.  “The people in the field who are doing the hard work should receive timely, useful data that allows them to learn and adapt.  I’m using a scoreboard as a metaphor for this continuous flow of data, which provides a way to judge in real time whether you’re succeeding or failing”  (Heath, 2020, p. 238).  The Scoreboard Model metaphor makes perfect sense.  Chicago Public Schools used the scoreboard model to increase the graduation rate by 25 percentage points.  Teams continually monitored and asked, ‘how can we make progress this week?’  What are some ways you can take action to monitor progress of your team’s goals?

Teams can accomplish amazing things when students and data are the focus.  Laura Lipton and Bruce Wellman, in their book Got Data? Now What?, lift seven qualities and actions of high-performing groups:

  1. Maintain a clear focus
  2. Embrace a spirit of inquiry
  3. Put data at the center
  4. Honor commitments to learners and learning
  5. Cultivate relational trust
  6. Seek equity
  7. Assume collective responsibility

“These qualities are lenses through which groups and individual group members can view their interactions to gain perspective on the choices that they are making and the skills they are applying as they work together.  Group development also requires personal development.  When and how group members choose to participate emerges from individual and collective awareness and commitment to developing these attributes” (Lipton & Welman, 2012, p. 11).  As you reflect on those seven actions, you can make many connections to collective efficacy and You, Upstream.  Collective efficacy is, “the belief that, through collective actions, educators can influence student outcomes and improve student learning” (Donohoo, 2016, back cover).  You, Upstream, is focusing on how you, as an individual, can change the organization that you work for.  When considering the seven actions of high-performing groups, reflect upon the following upstream questions:

  1. Maintain a clear focus – Am I clear about our purpose?
  2. Embrace a spirit of inquiry – What might I be avoiding or leaving out?
  3. Put data at the center – What other sources might add to our thinking?
  4. Honor commitments to learners and learning – What new goals might I set for my own learning?
  5. Cultivate relational trust – Am I following through on my commitments?
  6. Seek equity – Am I able to set my own preference and judgments aside to consider others’ ideas?
  7. Assume collective responsibility – In what ways are the connections and linkages between my work and my colleagues’ work making a difference for students?

How might those reflection questions support you in being an upstream leader while building collective efficacy within your district?  Your school?  Your team?  What might it look like, sound like, and feel like when the entire district is individually and collectively putting the systems in place focusing on prevention and using improvement cycles/scoreboard models to monitor continuous improvement?  What might you want to be mindful of within yourself to support your growth as an upstream leader?  How might those questions support you as you reflect on 2020-21 as well as planning and launching 2021-2022?

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