I “just happened” to find this link a few days ago; it was a suggested reading for last week in the Coursera course called “How to Change the World.” I’ve seen the central metaphor before: it involves somebody looking upstream to find out why people are being “thrown in the water,” while others are busy jumping in to save those in imminent peril. I also “just happened” to find this post by Dan Oestreich about “co-design” as an organizing principle in non-hierarchical organizations.
I was surprised to discover that I’ve never focused on looking upstream in a blog post … or if I focused on it, I didn’t use the word. It seems I’ve only used the word upstream in one other post … and that was a quote from my friend Debbie, who talked about how “Intrinsic rewards are what keeps one moving forward, even if paddling upstream with no paddles!”
But what about looking upstream together? What does that look and feel like?
I’m posting this slightly late because I just finished a very relevant Google+ Hangout. C, it seems, just discovered that he failed two sections of the Great Big Standardized Test that determines promotion from one grade to the next in His Particular State. C’s family is understandably concerned, and they want him to do better and move along and, eventually, fulfill his long-time dream of joining the military.
Over the years, a lot of Latin Family members have been similar to C … very, very similar. It only took a few questions for us to discover why C was having problems with the two Particular Subjects. He’s clearly a global, big-picture thinker, and the Particular Subjects were taught as sequential steps to be memorized. C wasn’t able to participate live in the Hangout due to some odd technology issues, but he and his family will be watching the recording and sending some further questions.
And when that happens, I’ll be working with, not for C and his family to look upstream together, to find the solution that’s hidden in the problem. They already know that we’ll be working to combine three elements … three elements that are probably quite familiar to you if you’re a regular reader of this blog. We’ll be combining
- a journey of discovery about C as a learner (and, quite likely, the rest of his family as learners, too);
- something C really loves (I now have a list of his favorite things);
- something C wants to learn about (the specific areas in those Particular Subjects where he struggled the most, based on his detailed score reports which I haven’t seen yet).
And of course, as C combines those three things, he’ll make something meaningful which he’ll probably be able to use to help others in a similar situation. Apparently there are quite a few families in his situation, even in their Relatively Small and Isolated Town, so we may even be able to build a face-to-face community in which they can help and support each other.
But how does my conversation with C and his family relate to looking upstream together? I’m sure that C’s teachers kept him focused on the problems, possibly even hyper-focused; I haven’t yet heard about data notebooks or error analysis, but those aren’t uncommon school-based tools, even in Relatively Small and Isolated Towns. Unfortunately, depending on how you use them, data notebooks can keep you focused on the drowning people in the rapids, the specific current struggles, rather than on looking upstream for root causes of the problems. And data notebooks can also encourage teachers to do things for, not with “that poor struggling kid” or “that bad, lazy kid.” Let’s give him more practice with This Objective, we think; after all, that’s where his scores were the lowest. But what if the problem isn’t with This Objective itself, but with a subsidiary skill or understanding? More and more practice with the Same Old Same Old probably won’t fix that problem, but it probably will make C (or anybody) bored, angry, and resentful.
But when you look upstream together, it’s a very different feeling. You’re working with each other, and you’re looking for some very specific things … specific areas of challenge, of course, but also specific strengths and interests. To borrow Dan Oestreich’s term, you’re co-designing a solution, or a set of solutions … and you’re focusing on root causes rather than just symptoms.
I’m excited to see how things work out with C and his family, but I’m also excited to see what happens as we co-design and look upstream together in the GHF Online classes … and in some other projects I haven’t really discussed here yet. I wonder what other new insights and discoveries await as we look upstream together today and in the days to come!