Sunday, February 26, 2017


This morning I've been reading the first few chapter of a book that our superintendent gave us at our last management meeting. In a very short nutshell, Gawande says doctors and medical professionals are to blame for the spread of infections in hospitals because of lack of DILIGENCE. Primarily they don't wash their hands for a variety of reasons, or they wash so much that it irritates skin which breeds infection too. 

Perhaps the same can be said about student failure when it comes to us educators. We didn't screen students, we didn't get them tutoring early enough, we didn't pinpoint their exact need and gave them a misaligned intervention, we waited until second/third grade to catch them up, we didn't realize that they had 5 years of intervention plan meetings over and over and the interventions weren't done or monitored or changed if there was no progress, we didn't keep focusing on identified priorities, we trained teachers and weren't DILIGENT in giving them follow up support, we didn't make it easy for schools and teachers to immediately know on day one of school who are at-risk students/long term english learners/etc, site or district leaders didn't clarify expectations or set up initiatives for success or we weren't patient enough with implementing something before we throw it out and the list can go on and on.  

The first few chapters also discuss how protocol during polio outbreaks has been instrumental in containing outbreaks and almost eradicating polio from the planet. In the case of India, the WHO has protocols and they worked with local teams to establish a system where outbreaks were contained even in areas with severe lack of resources and hygiene. For example protocol required that health care workers mark P on doors to verify that all kids in the house had been vaccinated and X if a child was missing when they visited or didn't want to be vaccinated. People also weren't supposed to be chastised if they chose not to vaccinate.  Children had their hands marked to show they had been vaccinated. 

An important feature of the success of the polio campaigns was the DILIGENCE to follow up and follow through-supervisors going into the community to do some follow up checks to make sure health workers were following protocol and actually checking the doors, the marking on hands, the ways that the vaccine was transported and stored etc. For example, a minor check to say "can you show me the refrigerator" helped the supervisor know that the fridge wasn't working nor was the generator and it allowed immediate trouble shooting for the local doctor. 

Perhaps as school site and district leaders we don't follow through with the DILIGENCE. Perhaps we don't monitor as effectively as we should that something is being implemented.  Or we have one priority for implementation and then add on another at the same time and then throw one or both out because we don't see quick success.  Or perhaps we don't give the appropriate support to teacher that they might need to be more successful. 

It's all food for thought, but when WHO workers fly to India to status check something, they can maintain such follow through and they are being proactive about it. It's hard for a supervisor who flew to India with the intent of monitoring and support to not be stretched in all directions because it's not like he can just fly out of India or be reached immediately to solve other problems. Or this type of "the grass is always greener on the other side" type of mentality is my failure. 

The nature of jobs in educational leadership aren't able to screen out all the competing priorities-perhaps it's easier to do in a life-death medical situation but its hard to prioritize when you've got so many competing priorities and emergencies coming at you simultaneously in the day to day of an educational system. Perhaps some way there is a way to replicate this laser-like focus of the operating room or the polio campaign-and I suppose that this is the intent of our superintendent highlighting effective practices of high reliability organizations so that educational systems can basically be reconceptualized as life or death type of situations. 

Meanwhile I am going to do a checklist to check in on people in a systematic way and check off certain things that can be done to provide proactive support. For example, I randomly emailed a teacher because the principal said that she just told her that she didn't have books all year. I found out immediately that she never told anyone and has had no materials all year. A simple checklist to check in on people and ask if there is anything that they need-beyond  mass email, like a personal email or phone call, will allow us to get ahead of ourselves and be more proactive. 

Another idea might be that I often make assumptions that teachers or sites immediately know the levels and the performance of their students. For example, I made the assumption that teachers would know who to target for our local Biliteracy Achievement Award but it seems like when I was diligent about it and sent a personalized email about who met the criteria in both languages, who met the criteria in one language, who is borderline and needed to be tested again, we suddenly saw a huge increase in students participating in the award and interestingly last year many of the borderline kids suddenly increased in their performance afterwards. 

At the district level people often repeat that teachers have access to the data in online reporting systems and can pull their own data. "If we keep doing it for them then they won't do it themselves" is said, but perhaps they would appreciate something similar where we are diligent about quickly pulling data for them to serve as early look outs when it comes to student performance. Just like the doctors in the book who get too busy or forget to wash their hands, many teachers might be too busy to dig in and intensively look at their data to identify the trends. Of course many teachers do but on a general scale everyone is not looking at it as DILIGENTLY as we all should be, including informal data and especially aren't being as DILIGENT about using such data to change or guide instruction. 

According to this book, many operating rooms have established such a strict protocol and DILIGENCE towards safety that they don't have the same disease transmission as the rest of the hospital because they created one position on the team whose primary job is to ensure patient safety and is a "watchdog". How to have an equivalent position in education is beyond my comprehension at the district level  but I can see how a school site might have one of those kinds of "early lookout/watch dog" kind of positions with an intervention specialist who is monitoring all the kids on a continual basis and is helping teachers devise ways to target students' needs with a laser like focus. 

People might be inclined to say that we are already diligently monitoring the kids but just like this doctor admits that he is responsible for infecting his own patients by his lack of hand washing, I will admit that we could do a better job in the education field about being DILIGENT about identifying at risk students as early as possible in their education, providing quality and early interventions, and  monitoring the progress of all students including students who meet grade level standards. If you already have it all figured out then good for you. Meanwhile I will keep reflecting on how I personally can try to get better at providing support that teachers, principals, support staff and parents need to help their students achieve success.