Thinking Upstream

Topics: School Management

A concept made popular by bestselling author and 2021 NAESP Pre-K-8 Principals Conference keynote Dan Heath—thinking upstream—can help you adjust your thinking and identify and solve problems in your school before they happen. We asked members to share their upstream problems—what crises are percolating just beneath the surface—and how they hope to get ahead of them as they school year continues. Here’s what they had to say:

Fixing COVID-Related Challenges

“There are no crises unless you look at your challenges that way.  Moving forward, schools need to hold onto the effective practices learned over the past year and re-establish teaching norms and relationship expectations at the beginning of the year.”—Christopher Wooleyhand, Maryland

“The lingering effects of COVID-19 are yet to be felt in our school systems. The future of learning will require additional efforts on social-emotional learning and supports for staff and students.”—Mandy Ellis, Illinois

Improving School Culture

“I’m merging two staffs this year following the repurposing of my previous school. I have to be very purposeful about building one team and fostering a positive culture.”—Justin Swope, Arkansas

“At my school, the problem is more of an opportunity.  When we open this school year, 50 percent of our school will be new to the school due to redistricting and the closure last year. We need to reboot and almost start our school as a new school. Hopefully, with proper planning and intentionality, we will be successful.”—Ed Cosentino, Maryland

Focusing on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

“So much is just below the surface at all times! The one that I anticipate being closest is how we need to consciously lean into being mindful of addressing cultural and racial inequities within our district and community. That learning begins with much introspection and recognizing inequity, bias, stereotypes that are a part of the larger system. The ‘bootstraps narrative’ is a powerful narrative to combat and pushback can be as strong as the need to address it on behalf of our students, underrepresented community members, and society as a whole. This is hard heart work as a leader!”—Jessica Hutchison, Illinois

Overcoming Inadequate Funding

“I feel that we are in a position with flexibility and funding to prevent most problems, but I am concerned about the new funding ending after two school years. We can deal without the programs, but losing newly hired staff that we grow accustomed to utilizing will be difficult.”—Marla Turpin, Georgia

“Long-term funding is am upstream problem. Also, staff perception around what their roles and responsibilities are.”—Garrett Dukette, Connecticut