As most readers of this blog are also avid social media consumers, I’m sure you are all aware of upstream thinking. I’ve heard it in slightly different variations, but the gist of the lesson is this:
Two people are standing by a river. A child passes by them, drowning, so they jump in to pull them out. But then another child needs rescuing, and another.
At some point they have to decide: do we keep rescuing the children or do we go upstream to see why they keep ending up in the water?
That is the basic premise of upstream thinking: how can we move from just responding to things that are happening around us, and proactively act to prevent some of these bad things from occurring in the first place?
And therein lies the difficulty. No one wants to abandon a drowning child. Or to stop trying to put out a raging fire. Or to change directions on handling a pandemic.
Because all of those things are important.
I keep quoting Maya Angelou, but she nailed it when she said: if we always do what we’ve always done, we will always get what we’ve always gotten. How long do we keep going into the river before we decide to go see what is causing the problem?
I remember hearing the phrase ‘social determinants of health’ when my daughter started nursing classes at university. For the first time, she was realizing how health issues were much more complex than simply treating a disease. In education, I think we understand this premise well. For as many factors as we can control in a school setting, there are untold more that students arrive with everyday that affect their ability to learn.
Mental health issues.
Lack of safety.
Lack of sleep.
I could go on, but it’s an endless and extensive list, and COVID has served to exasperate these issues for many children and families. The role of the school is ever-changing as we support students with so much more than their academic needs. Upstream thinking will require all levels and multiple governmental departments to collaborate and cooperate…all of which is way beyond my understanding and control.
Or is it?
Whose job is it to do the upstream thinking anyway?
<all of us>
I am still reflecting on the quint-semester that just finished, and looking ahead to the next one. Part of that process is gathering feedback from students, and I’ll share some of that below.
But the big piece for me is constantly being aware that *I* am responsible for upstream thinking in my classroom.
This is where portfolios come in. I’ve learned a lot (with a long way to go) but thankfully there is great work in this area by Sandra Herbst, Anne Davies, Brenda Augusta, and more.
Because despite multiple upstream efforts, some still fell in. There is more to be done, but the feedback is encouraging, so I’ll be presenting portfolios as an option with this semester’s group too. For now, I’ll leave you with a few of the student thoughts from this semester. Have a great week!
Do you prefer having grades/marks provided throughout the term, or were you okay with a gradeless approach?
How did you like having a personal portfolio instead of required assignments?
What level of feedback or assistance did you feel you received throughout the portfolio process?
What aspect of the portfolio was easiest for you or did you enjoy the most?
What aspect of the portfolio was most challenging or you did not enjoy?
How do you feel about the 2.5hr block class?
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