Posted by: bwoof | October 17, 2009

Upstream Thinking

Learning from other disciplines can be very helpful. Today I’m taking a lesson from Nursing in general and my daughter in particular, a recent Nursing grad, who shared with me the concept of “Upstream Thinking.’

Upstream thinking considers the social, economic, and environmental origins of health problems that manifest at the population level.

The following story reminds me that I had a ‘downstream’ week.

CalgaryBanff171A man, walking along a riverbank, suddenly sees a person flailing his arms and hears him pleading for help as he bobs in the water while being pushed downstream. The man on the bank dives into the water, swims to the victim and rescues him by pulling him ashore. When the man turns toward the river, once again he hears someone screaming for help. Then another. And another. One after the other, the man pulls victims from the river.

Exhausted, and pulling yet another victim to shore, he notices a woman walking by. “Help me!” he pleads. “All these people are drowning and I have to do something to save them. More people are falling in and need help. Look!” he says, pointing to the river where more victims are in the water and needing help.

Immediately, the woman starts to run upstream along the bank.

“Where are you going?” he screams at the woman. “I need help now!”

“I am helping right now,” says the woman. “I’m going upstream to find out how they’re falling into the river and to prevent that!”

Source: (it seems that this is a common fable, but this blog site is a simple summary)

I believe the fable goes on to describe what the woman finds when she runs upstream. To her dismay, a large gate or dam has been opened and the rush of water gushing downstream is so strong that it is sucking many individuals into a current of sure destruction. Solution? Shut the gate. Think upstream instead of only trying to rescue those who are drowning downstream.

I’m surprised that as I surf around the net there are multiple references to upstream thinking, many from medicine, but also many from business and, even education.  In a review of a book called Essentials of community-based nursing   it notes the following:




I wonder…what does upstream thinking look like at my school? What could I have done this week to not be scrambling so much to pluck desperate people out of the torrent of meanness? or mental health needs? or social-emotional whirlpools?

At times, with all due respect to what education pundits tell me about the value of good instruction, I have to wonder if we are not addressing the upstream issues as much as we could…perhaps should.

I would love to invite people to a dialogue about what Upstream Thinking in Education could look like?

Note: the mighty Bow River, Banff, Alberta,  is shown in the photo above, this time in it’s frozen state during March Break when we visited last year. Trust me…you don’t want to be downstream in this frigid water.

Grateful for:

  • Dave, our tech! We are much improved on the computer side of things
  • Sarah and her extensive knowledge and kindness re visually impaired students

Curious about:

  • how to manage time better….note that I’m still working on the iPhone and Senteo wanna-be-lessons that I still haven’t got to today
  • how best to help my friend whose daughter is struggling with mental health issues

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