4 Out of 5 Doesn’t Cut It: How M. Night Shyamalan Helped Me Do My Job Better

The book, I Got Schooled, by M. Night Shyamalan, inspired an insight that explains how the Building Assets Reducing Risks model is achieving such powerful academic outcomesand helping schools to close the achievement gap. My insight is related to a fact shared in Shyamalan’s book regarding clinical education in the medical field. He states that, “if your patients eat a balanced diet, sleep eight hours a day, exercise three times a week, don’t smoke and have a relatively stress-free work environment, their chance of becoming seriously ill drops dramatically.” However, he continues, “You have to do them all. Doing four out of five doesn’t buy you 80 percent of the health improvement you get by doing all five but the effects of the remaining four tenets drop exponentially.” All five of these tenets occurring in conjunction at a certain level are what gives you the health benefit.

This insight is proving to be true in the field of education as well. We have found that using the right combination of highly effective educational strategies, each implemented with a high degree of fidelity, is the catalyst for closing the achievement gap. Groups of interventions, applied without an explicit focus on maintaining an identified threshold of fidelity among all components, will be exponentially less effective. Four out of five doesn’t cut it.

Just like the complexity of the interactions in the human body, creating and maintaining healthy systems that work together effectively on a daily basis is easier said than done, especially in education, where so many factors influence student performance. One intervention is hard enough to implement well, but two, three or even eight — all at the same time — and all working together? The BARR model has proven it can be done. This is the first time I have witnessed the following factors occur within an education model, and is the key to BARR’s success and results:

  1. All eight components of the BARR model are implemented simultaneously and focus on strong positive relationships and ongoing discussion of student data.
  2. Fidelity to the model is measured by both the degree to which each of the eight components are in place, as well as the quality of implementation based on observation of the specific behaviors identified as critical to each component.
  3. BARR implementation is overseen by a Site Coordinator who monitors each component and ensures that teacher and staff time is balanced and effectiveness maximized.
  4. All components are logically integrated and can be adapted to the needs of each school without sacrificing fidelity to the model.
  5. Attention is paid to the limits of school-based interventions, and when necessary, additional community resources are added to a student’s intervention.

To close the achievement gap, each of these components must be implemented, fidelity to standards maintained, and all must work in concert. Just as improving our individual health takes a balanced and systemic approach requiring defined adherence to core tenets, so too does improving our schools. In order to maximize the achievement of all students — regardless of race, ethnicity, economic status, gender, or any other differences — it has to be all five.