Connecting Big Ideas

“The world we have created is a product of our thinking; it cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”

~ Albert Einstein

The 2020-2021 Blueprint Bulletin theme as well as the Leadership Networks and the Virtual Leadership Institute has focused on Upstream Thinking for Systems Improvement.  During the Virtual Leadership Institute on June 15, participants had the pleasure to listen to Dan Heath, the author of Upstream – How to Solve Problems Before They Happen.  Dan focused on What Does it Look Like to Move Upstream?  He reminded us of health care expert Paul Batalden’s quote, “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.”  Heath (2021) states, “If you look at a system that has consistent results . . . maybe good results, maybe bad results . . . if they are consistent, then you can treat that system as though it were designed for the purpose of yielding those results. . . . We can further interrogate that system and ask about the design choices.  We could ask, ‘What decisions did they make that allowed them to produce [“x”]?’ . . . . When you look at the system through that lens, you begin to spot absurdities.”  So, what might your ‘x’ be?  Might it be a lower-than-desired graduation rate?  Higher-than-desired office discipline referral rate?  Too many students identified for tier 2 and tier 3 supports?  High staff turnover?  Or even, resource allocation not meeting your needs?  

What if your system is yielding the wrong results, what does it take to change the system?  Heath (2021) reminded us that upstream leaders have MUST DOs which are different from the normal downstream firefighting mode.  As you have read and learned throughout the year, upstream leaders MUST reflect and act upon the following seven questions as well as be intentional about avoiding and overcoming the three barriers which keep us downstream.

An institute participant commented, “Great address that really made me want to be more proactive with my team next year. Even in schools, many of the problems are the same year after year!”

With that being said, Dan encouraged us to reflect on, “In what aspects of your life and work do you feel stuck in reactive mode?”  My hunch is that you spend too much time in reactive mode, not because that’s where you want to spend your time, it’s because the systems are not yet in place to be proactive, to be preventative.

Dan allowed us to record his address and make it available to you for 30 days.  If you missed Dan’s 60-minute presentation, want to watch it again, or if you want to share it with your colleagues, you can access it until August 18 on this page of our website.  How might you collectively watch, debrief, and apply upstream thinking?  How might this summer and the 2021-22 school year be spent in creating/tweaking the systems necessary to achieve your desired results?

From day-to-day decisions to long-term planning, how might you be intentional about being an upstream educator?  The Blueprint Connections, Leader’s Corner, and Teacher’s Corner sections will confirm your thinking and give you some additional food-for-thought and potential actions.

Blueprint Connections

“A bad system will beat a good person every time.”

~ W. Edwards Deming

As you think about moving upstream, the Virtual Blueprint Institute VII, scheduled for August 4-5, will support you and your team with upstream thinking and continuous improvement planning.  Not only will connections be made to the seven questions for upstream thinking, this Institute will have learning and discussion around how to refine the systems in our districts, schools, and classrooms.  This year we welcome two keynote speakers to our virtual institute.  On August 4, Manny Scott will share real, life-changing lessons and support participants in learning to transform our schools into safe, positive environments where adults are equipped to reach all students. On August 5, Jenni Donohoo will provide the foundation for understanding the source of collective efficacy for teachers and school leaders as well as the significant impact collective efficacy has on student achievement.  There are daily networking opportunities that will allow for discussion around relevant topics and district highlights. Our 90-minute learning sessions will be action-focused providing examples, tools, and/or protocols that will support all efforts toward continuous improvement.  As you read through the session titles below, take note of how these sessions will assist you and your colleagues to transform into upstream thinkers, build a positive climate and culture, as well as have a deeper understanding of how collective efficacy and its impact on student achievement will support your planning and actions for the 2021-22 school year!

SessionConnections to: Upstream Thinking, Continuous Improvement, Collective Efficacy, and/or Climate/Culture
Keynote:  How to REACH Youth TodayClimate/Culture
Networking:  Transforming Our Schools Into Safe, Positive EnvironmentsClimate/Culture
Networking:  Equipping All Adults to Reach StudentsClimate/Culture
Networking:  Cultivating Healthy Relationships With StudentsClimate/Culture
Moving Forward: Impacting the Whole Child in an Equitable WayUpstream Thinking, Continuous Improvement, Collective Efficacy, Climate/Culture
Developing a District Curriculum: Supporting Teacher Focus and Student LearningUpstream Thinking
Using Non-Academic Data to Identify Student NeedsUpstream Thinking, Continuous Improvement
Engaging Students to Impact LearningCollective Efficacy
Monitoring Curriculum ImplementationUpstream Thinking, Continuous Improvement,
Leveraging the Blueprint Framework to Support MICIPUpstream Thinking, Continuous Improvement
Keynote:  The Power of Collective EfficacyCollective Efficacy
Networking:  Supporting Teacher Collective Efficacy Through Teacher Collaborative TeamsCollective Efficacy, Continuous Improvement
Networking:  Supporting Leadership Efficacy Through Learning Focused PartnershipsCollective Efficacy, Continuous Improvement
Networking:  Leveraging Instructional Leadership Routines to Support Teacher Collective EfficacyCollective Efficacy, Continuous Improvement
Educator Stress: Where Does It Originate? What Can I Do About It As a Leader?Upstream Thinking, Collective Efficacy, Climate/Culture
Linking Leadership to Student Learning: The Contributions of Leadership EfficacyUpstream Thinking, Collective Efficacy, Climate/Culture
Teachers Help Teachers – The Power of Examining Student WorkUpstream Thinking, Collective Efficacy
Regaining Our Balance: Improving Teaching and Learning through a Balanced-Assessment SystemUpstream Thinking, Continuous Improvement, Collective Efficacy
Everyone Needs a CoachUpstream Thinking, Collective Efficacy, Climate/Culture

The Leader’s and Teacher’s Corner sections will support you with deeper thinking around connections to upstream thinking, continuous improvement, collective efficacy, and climate/culture.

Leader’s Corner

“I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better.”

~ Elon Musk

A Leadership Institute participant stated, “[Dan Heath] sure left me thinking as a leader. His message at the end of [his keynote focused on] picking one thing and going with it was important as I believe as educators, we want to ‘fix’ things and take on several to never really reach ‘fixing’ because we took on too much.”  His reflection makes me think of ‘less is more’, ‘focus on the focus’, ‘go slow to go fast’ . . . or any other truism that can be connected.  Let’s take his thinking one step further.  To pick one thing means that a needs assessment should be used to determine the one thing.  Once the one thing is determined, it would make complete sense to use an Improvement Cycle IPOF model to identify what input would be used to support the implementation of the one thing; the desired outputs for each iteration of the one thing’s improvement cycle; the processes, by role, that are needed to achieve the desired output; and, for each iteration, the feedback that would be utilized to tweak the input and/or processes.

To achieve success for this improvement cycle, you will want to be intentional in your planning by using the seven questions for upstream thinkers:

  • How will you unite the right people?  As you determine processes, you’ll want to determine ‘the right people’ to accomplish the important tasks.  Might you even need to “cross” grade levels, departments, and/or buildings to assemble your team which ensures diverse perspectives and equitable representation of the demographic served?
  • How will you change the system? As you complete the needs assessment, you’ll want to ensure that you have determined true causation and work towards “changing” the system to ultimately “fix” the cause.  
  • How will you get early warning of the problem?  As you think about the desired outputs for each measurable process, what might be an early-warning indicator that things are going awry?  By using short-term cycles of improvement, you will be able to use formative data to tweak processes or input sooner rather than later.
  • Where can you find a point of leverage?  What might already exist within or outside of your system that can be leveraged to help you achieve your desired outputs?
  • Who will pay for what does not happen?  What incentives might inadvertently be in place that push you to stay in reaction mode?  How might those incentives be reduced or eliminated?
  • How will you avoid doing harm?  In complex systems, whatever you do will have ripple effects.  Those effects might be positive or negative; in either case, you need to pay attention to the bigger picture. 
  • How will you know that you’re succeeding?  This is the crux of an improvement cycle.  How might you use short, iterative cycles to measure progress as you’re working towards success?  How might you break down large goals into interim and short-term targets which can be formatively assessed every few weeks?  This is where feedback is used to inform changes to the input and/or processes.  As Elon Musk’s quote above states, “I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better.”

So, as the Leadership Institute participant stated, ‘find one thing’ . . . Find the one thing and do the one thing well.  Know that you are doing well by using improvement cycles to monitor implementation.

As you can see from the Blueprint Connections section above, several of the Virtual Blueprint Institute sessions will support learning around the continuous improvement process and upstream thinking.  One session, Leveraging the Blueprint Framework to Support MICIP, will specifically support leaders to be data-driven decision-makers by engaging in learning around the interconnectedness of the Blueprint framework and the continuous improvement process.  Participants will have an opportunity to unpack their district- and/or building-level goal(s) into measurable, manageable cycles of improvement.

Teacher’s Corner

“It’s better to hang out with people better than you. Pick out associates whose behavior is better than yours and you’ll drift in that direction.”

~ Warren Buffett

The Statewide Field Team is excited for the learning opportunities for the amazing educators we have in our state!  We hope you will join us on August 4 and 5 for the free Virtual Blueprint Institute (VBPI) VII – Engaging and Refining Our Systems to Support Continuous Improvement conference.  As an upstream educator, you know it’s critical to work towards collective teacher efficacy, to use data to guide instruction, and to instill in our students a growth mindset while building a positive classroom and school culture and climate!  Unite the right people and consider attending the following VBPI sessions to deepen your understanding and plan for action!  These sessions are designed specifically with teachers in mind!

SessionSession Description
How to REACH Youth TodayBy sharing very real, life-changing lessons, Manny Scott has learned from teachers and loving adults who helped him. From the work he has been doing with kids for the last 18 years, he shows how to cultivate healthy relationships with students—and all youth, so that they can excel in school, and come out prepared for work and life. Learn how to transform your schools into safe, positive environments where all adults are equipped to REACH kids, and all kids are empowered to REACH their destinies.
Networking: Cultivating Healthy Relationships With StudentsIn this session we will debrief our keynote presentation from Manny Scott, allowing participants to share connections and ideas around how to cultivate healthy relationships with students. We will highlight examples from Blueprint districts to support our discussion and networking.
Moving Forward: Impacting the Whole Child in an Equitable WayThrough the lens of our growth mindsets we will share what we learned and how we shifted our practices during the 20-21 school year to meet the academic and non-academic needs of EACH student, in each classroom, in each school, each day. In this session, participants will determine how they will continue to impact the whole child in an equitable way.
Developing a District Curriculum: Supporting Teacher Focus and Student LearningThis session will focus on some of the key aspects of developing a district curriculum. This will include a brief explanation of protocols that can be used to support essential standards selection, K-12 vertical alignment, and learning target development. We will also discuss the use of success criteria to provide evidence of student learning. Finally, a monitoring tool will be shared that can support educators as they work to put these foundational elements into place for the district.
Engaging Students to Impact LearningWe often think that each student is engaged, yet how do we know?  Engagement is essential for students to learn and grow. Ongoing classroom engagement fosters learning and enhances achievement. In this session, we will explore a framework that classroom teachers can use to make instructional decisions that help foster student engagement. We will model and share attention, engagement, and teaching strategies that promote student engagement in any learning environment. Finally, we will share ideas on how student engagement might be monitored to ensure the greatest impact on learning.
The Power of Collective EfficacyGreater job satisfaction, resilience, and impact are a result of educators sharing a sense of collective efficacy. This inspirational keynote provides the foundation for understanding teacher and leader collective efficacy, the positive consequences associated with it, and the sources of efficacy.
Networking: Supporting Teacher Collective Efficacy Through Teacher Collaborative TeamsWe will debrief Jenni Donohoo’s keynote presentation. We will make connections to and share ideas on how teacher collective efficacy is supported through teacher collaborative teams. We will highlight examples from Blueprint districts to support our discussion and networking.
Teachers Help Teachers – The Power of Examining Student WorkTeachers collaboratively examining student work uncover how their teaching methods impact student learning. When staff collectively believe and collaboratively act, great things are accomplished and students are the winners. This session will provide you with an opportunity to examine protocols and identify your next steps for impactful collaboration.
Regaining Our Balance: Improving Teaching and Learning through a Balanced-Assessment SystemThis unprecedented time has encouraged us to adjust our lens, align our priorities, and act with intentionality to impact and improve student achievement. In this session, we will define a balanced-assessment system and explore how to utilize multiple measures of data to support continuous improvement.
Everyone Needs a CoachBill Gates once said, “Everyone needs a coach.” In this session, participants will learn why coaching is an integral component of reaching improvement goals in a district. Participants will begin by focusing on strategies to determine what to coach around and give opportunities to reflect and apply to your own context. In breakout sessions, we will address strategies for how to coach, how to receive coaching and feedback, and how the coach and the learner can develop skills through improvement cycles.

Timely Topics

Virtual Blueprint Institute VII: Engaging and Refining Our Systems to Support Continuous Improvement

  • Dates:  August 4-5, 2021, 9 am – 3 pm
  • Intended Audience:  Teams made up of district, building, and teacher leaders
  • SCECHs:  Up to 10 hours can be earned
  • Registration Link
Virtual Blueprint Institute VII Informational Video

The 2021-2022 Professional Learning schedule is available on the Events Registration page of our website and all registration is live!

Our next round of online learning begins October 6 and runs through December 1.  Please browse the professional learning calendar for courses that may interest you and/or address your district’s goals. To register, click Events Registration.  

We currently offer on-demand learning courses:  Educational Improvement Through Systems and Changing Minds to Address Poverty in the Classroom. Anyone can access quality content, on their schedule, anytime of the day or night. On-demand learning offers flexibility, convenience, and courses that are easily accessible. No login required.


“Practice the philosophy of continuous improvement. Get a little bit better every single day.”

~ Brian Tracy

Dan Heath (2021) reminded us during the Leadership Institute that there tend to be three forces that push us downstream:  1) problem blindness, 2) lack of ownership, and 3) tunneling.  A previous edition of the Blueprint Bulletin highlighted these three forces.   As a quick reminder, 

  • Problem Blindness – infers that you can’t fix a problem if you can’t see it.  We adapt to problems, we accept them as natural, and we forget that we have the agency to solve them.
  • Tunneling – This is the state where we have scarce time and scarce resources and it’s like being in a tunnel.  Heath (2021) states, “If you don’t want to go backward, there’s only one direction to go.  Forward.  In a tunnel, you can’t think about:  am I going the right way?  Is there a better way to get to where I’m going?” This is tunneling . . . you move forward however you can.  The bad thing about this is that you constantly find workarounds to any problem/barrier that you face which means that this same problem will exist and ‘bite’ you again next week and the month after that.  Heath believes that this is a nasty trap.  We need to make sure that there’s an escape.  How might “daily huddles” help lift/surface systems-level problems and give you opportunities to problem solve while in the tunnel?  We need to believe that there’s hope that tomorrow will be better than today.
  • Lack of ownership – Downstream work (emergency work) often has clear indicators of “ownership”.  For example, if your house is on fire, the fire department will come and put it out . . . it’s their problem . . . they are the heroes (and they truly are!).  With upstream thinking, we consider, whose job is it to keep your house from catching on fire in the first place?  This thinking is more ambiguous (the silent heroes).  You might think that the homeowners are first in line.  This is part of it AND it involves many more.  Might you consider the builder of your home, the materials that were used, as well as the determiners of the building codes?  Heath (2021) states, “When ownership is diffused like that, what we learn is, ‘when no one owns a problem, it probably won’t get solved.’”  How might you unite the right people and take ownership for problems that you didn’t create?  Dan asked participants to consider how we might define an upstream hero. He states, “Their work is often quiet.  Almost invisible.  They rarely get any glory or recognition.  We need a generation of upstream heroes.  People who don’t rush in to save the day but people who keep the day from needing to be saved.”

After you’ve taken a moment to rejuvenate in the next days and weeks ahead, you are encouraged to apply upstream thinking when planning.  What upstream story do you look forward to telling next summer?  The Statewide Field Team looks forward to partnering with you and your district as you implement systems and transform the future for your students!

Heath, D. (2020).  Upstream – How to Solve Problems Before They Happen. London: Transworld Publishers.
Heath, D. (2021, June 15).  Move Upstream. [Keynote Presentation]. District Leadership Team Institute.

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Our goal is to meet your needs. If there’s specific information that you believe you and others would benefit from learning about, please communicate those wishes to your SWFT facilitator or email Lynn Batchelder, Implementation Specialist,

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