The Medical Metaphor – Triage

As the new school year is opening, the schools I am working with are developing their plans for “Opening Strong.”  Its something we do at Talent Development to make as large an impact as soon as possible.  To work with the entire school to build a culture of success.  To find those students who have struggled in the past, and make sure they don’t fall back into the same pattern that brought them off-track in the first place.

It is within the idea of opening strong that I have been thinking about Triage.  As the new school year opens how do we marshal our resources to make them most effective?  If this were an emergency event, some tragedy, or a battle that has just taken place, then emergency medical workers would divide everyone into three categories (Wikipedia).

  1. Those who are likely to live, regardless of what care they receive;
  2. Those who are likely to die, regardless of what care they receive;
  3. Those for whom immediate care might make a positive difference in outcome.

I am NOT suggesting that schools do the same for their students.  Do NOT categorize them into those who will be successful no matter what, those that will drop out no matter what, and those that we can help.  I am, rather, suggesting we target each student’s issues with the above method.

For example, we may have a student with the following issues.

  • Has math first period and is having trouble understanding some basic math concepts.
  • Is late to school every day because they have to get their younger siblings to school first.
  • Has to take care of their younger siblings because their parent works two jobs to support the family.

Of these two issues, a school, and specifically the teachers, have much greater influence on the first issue rather than the second.  And unless they are willing to give the family money or a better job, they have little to no influence on that last issue.

If we use the example of triage from the beginning, then a school should focus their energies on where they can actually make a difference.  They should provide extra support in math.  I am not suggesting that they do nothing about the student’s home life.  A referral to a social worker or counselor can get things started and may result in support from a community agency or other family or something to support the greater issue.  But, the student is still coming to school (albeit late) and is still struggling in math, and that is what school is for.

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