What I am going to write here relates to this post by Tom Rademacher (@MrTomRad) on his blog, Mr. Rad’s Neighborhood. It’s called “The Two Week Plan” and describes quite literally a two week plan to interrupt a negative school climate in which one difficult incident chases the next. He writes, “I work in one of those schools. One of those schools that carry special state-assessed designations.”
His post tells us about the concept, the background thinking and the plan in action. He’s writing about it in the middle, in between week one and two. He’s sharing a work in progress and there are several reasons we need to sit up and take note.
- This plan has root causes in mind.
He begins with trauma as a heading and breaks that into two categories: immediate and generational. What?! Right off the bat, he goes very deep and lists under immediate: substance abuse, violence, dehumanization, poverty. Under generational: genocide, colonization, poverty. And those are just “trauma.” The other two headings include “structure/support” and “disengagement”. While I can’t begin to do this chart justice, I cannot remember seeing any plan or initiative that was prepared to recognize trauma as both immediate and generational. That changes the framing entirely for me.
Further, there’s a second diagram which shows current reactive responses to critical incidents versus an ideal cycle of response to those same incidents based on an understanding of the pieces of the puzzle shown in the diagram of causes. The ideal cycle of response includes de-escalation, reflection, restoration and return.
2. The plan is an interruption.
It’s called the two week plan because that’s what Mr. Rad is asking of his school community: faculty, admin and students - let’s try this with all our hearts for two weeks, 10 school days. Let’s interrupt the bad stuff that seems to be happening too regularly. Modestly he writes, “I can say with some decent confidence that over-all, this week has been better than awful.”
Interrupt, not cure, change, shift, reform, fix, bury, or resolve. Interrupt. That idea is so powerful. It doesn’t try to do too much but by being introduced, it opens doors to new possibilities. It nourishes potential. With a deliberate interruption there’s the chance to notice a difference, however slight. How is this different from what usually happens? Putting people in a position to even ask this question is more significant than we often recognize. This is a stroke of genius on Mr. Rad’s part.
Interruption also invites starting rather than waiting for the stars to magically align first.
3. The emphasis is on care, meeting students’ real needs, and being fully human.
“The Plan asks that for two weeks, for all of two weeks, every adult in the building focuses on creating a safer, more positive climate for our students.”
So here’s my thing. Our efforts, I believe, should include three very distinct kinds of work:
We should be preventative, focusing on students and situations that we know are on the brink and addressing them before anything happens.
We should be supportive, which means recognizing that asking for a perfect day won’t get you one, and students and staff are actual real live human beings with all the messiness inherent in that, and issues are going to pop up. When they do, they need to be handled holistically, immediately, and in a way that helps to raise the capacity of those involved.
We should be constructive. Through highly engaging, high-level, and community building instruction, we can create and reward a more positive climate while the more negative aspects are addressed.
4. The plan is in action.
This plan is going on. Right now, today, this week. The first week saw a lot of big and little successes as well as hiccups and interruptions to the interruption. Mr. Rad doesn’t know what the final outcome will be or look like exactly. But that’s not the point!
Mr. Rad and his colleagues have started doing some things differently. They’ve gotten some different results. Kids have had different experiences. Stuff is happening and it’s noticeable. That is the point. There is a difference.
5. The plan depends on people delivering just that much more of their better selves to this ‘thing’.
Mr. Rad freely admits that his plan involves a several big asks of a lot of different people. It asks teachers to commit time and energy in some pretty extensive ways - for support circle meetings with individual students, for planning and creating new and interesting project plans which diverge from the scripted curriculum plan, to be prepared to dedicate more time and attention to what happens during and after one of those critical incidents.
At the same time, Mr. Rad notes, “Teachers were, in a way I was actually surprised by, the most willing to dive in on something new and to spend time and effort they were already spending all of on making the two weeks as successful as possible.”
6. No single person needs to be a hero but just about everyone can be.
“Every piece of the Plan that has gone well has done so because of the input of the teachers and staff around me. They made it theirs, adapted it for the work they are doing, and for what they know to be true of our students…
I’m not sure exactly what we did in this first week, but I think we moved the needle. I think we made some bad stuff better and we made some new good stuff. I’m excited for how we’ll build on what we’ve done in week two, and hoping all of it will help weeks three through thirty.”
This aspect is so important: recognition of a team effort, many hands doing some very heavy lifting specifically on behalf of students. What makes that statement worthy of italics? For me it’s the absolute focus on kids and their needs, period. And taking kids’ needs not simply into account but centering their needs as the starting point for change. Even if we talk about this a lot in education circles, I fear that it is startlingly rare how many times we actually see this put into tangible practice.
Mr. Rad’s two week plan is neither a quick fix or a breezy read. Rather, it is a thoughtful and brave initiative that recognizes the costs of repeating unsuccessful patterns and aims to break those patterns through this targeted interruption. It is important for us as educators, as parents, as citizens who care about equity to not just highlight this example but take its principles and look for ways to make life better for our students whoever they are.
Daring to interrupt negative patterns is something we can all try and learn to get better at. For now I am rooting for Mr. Rad and his team and all the kids for whom these two weeks and hopefully many more to come mean something better. Please read his full post. There are more details and diagrams and ideas which will inspire and motivate you.