For the past four weeks, at 6:45 am, no matter where I am on the road, I get the same text message from my husband, Wayne, “I am going in the ‘tank’ now.” For those of you who know Wayne, especially in his retirement years, he really doesn’t like to get up early and when he does, he takes his time having coffee, catching up on the news and just enjoying his well-deserved days off doing the things he loves- fishing, golfing and building things. Since August 20, however, his life has been very different. Every morning Wayne gets up in Halifax (not in our hometown), walks to the hospital and, as he says, goes “in the tank”. He is having hyperbaric oxygen therapy to repair damage from radiation that he had fourteen years ago. During the past year, he has had severe issues with his jaw and mouth and with great dental and medical care, the correct diagnosis was made. Several steps have been taken (and there may be many more) but for right now, this is his life. This week, I was able to join Wayne in Halifax and see what “the tank” was all about. Right away, I knew that there was an analogy here to our school improvement work and I had to write about it.
As the Mayo Clinic describes, “hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized room or tube. Conditions treated with hyperbaric oxygen therapy include serious infections, bubbles of air in your blood vessels, and wounds that won’t heal as a result of diabetes or radiation injury. In a hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber, the air pressure is increased to three times higher than normal air pressure. Under these conditions, your lungs can gather more oxygen than would be possible breathing pure oxygen at normal air pressure. Your blood carries this oxygen throughout your body. This helps fight bacteria and stimulate the release of substances called growth factors and stem cells, which promote healing.”
As you can see, it is a specific medical treatment that must be applied with exact precision. From day one, Wayne was told that he had to attend at least thirty consecutive treatments. There is no option. He has to have the treatment in this very controlled environment and he can not miss any days. As I visited the hospital this week, I was thinking about some of my schools and the work that is needed right away to improve student learning. To say that these schools need a triage plan for many of the students is not an exaggeration. There is an urgent need to do an immediate diagnosis of why a student is not learning, what they can and cannot do and a decision must be made about the “treatment necessary”. In other words, besides knowing who isn’t learning we have to know what to do about it.
In my experience, we educators are often better at knowing who isn’t learning than really being able to determine the immediate, precise next steps of what to do about it. We may make the diagnosis (although I might argue that we don’t often dig deep enough here) but I do not believe that we always take the time to research and collaborate with others about what exact action must be taken. In other words, if Sarah can not read, do we really know what is missing and are we specifically addressing this? Using the hyperbaric oxygen therapy analogy, do we determine the exact treatment, the exact amount of time and make this non-negotiable? Do we disrupt someone’s schedule, change their day if necessary, to create the time for this type of intervention and train ourselves (or others) to deliver the support? And lastly, if we don’t know what to do, do we urgently find out so that we can do the right thing?
What I do know about my schools (and others) is that educators work tirelessly every single day to support students. They nurture them, care for them, cheer for them, provide safety and support and do their best to ensure learning is taking place. And, I know that when they see a student not being successful, they are frustrated and disappointed. They want to have the solutions and the right next steps. It takes courage and dedication to commit to dealing with the root cause; getting to the diagnosis and ensuring that action is taken that truly aligns to what is needed. In our school improvement work we like to say, student by student/skill by skill. Even if it means disrupting routines, causing some discomfort as we move outside of routines and habits and asking others to work differently. It is using all of our expertise, collaboratively, for the common goal of student success.
As I left the hospital, I reflected on how confident and competent the medical staff were and I knew that this made a difference for Wayne. He trusts that they are doing what is needed and that if this doesn’t work that they will create the next steps. I believe that this helps him be a confident patient. Exactly what we want in our schools; confident learners. Confident that we are doing all we can and exactly what is needed. And, so my challenge to you this week is to consider this; what is your current reality? Is your classroom, school or district a place where ‘triaging’ is done in a timely, effective manner to ensure learning? Are you building confidence in both staff and students so that every expertise and resource is maximized to build capacity for teaching and learning? Have a great week and I look forward to our time together next Saturday.