It’s Homecoming Day at District Y, which meant that a lot of Latin Family members would have to leave class early to prepare for the Big Pep Rally at the end of the day. I wasn’t surprised by that … but I was pleasantly surprised that they already knew when to leave and where to go, and that they told me before I asked. At Some Schools I’ve known, the cultural expectation would be to wait for the announcement … because the mysterious, omnipresent They would be the only ones who owned (or even knew about) the schedule. At other schools I’ve known, you’d wait for the announcement not because They had not provided information, but because you’d “just know” that the information would be inaccurate, the plans would change.
At District Y, the cheerleaders, band members, and fall athletes know the schedule, and they also own the process of getting themselves where they need to go at the scheduled time. That was a happy, but not unexpected discovery today.
I wonder what came first, the ownership of the process or the traditional pattern of high academic achievement at District Y and District Q. My old friends Ms. X and Mr. Y would say “it’s easy to teach Those Good Kids,” and I’d probably tell them that “kids are kids everywhere.” There are certainly cultural differences between These Parts and Up There … but there are cultural differences between any community and any other community. Cultural differences might explain some of the high academic achievement, but they wouldn’t necessarily account for the differences in the feeling of ownership.
Or would they?
When I talk with students, their families, and the colleagues I’ve “virtually met” at District Y and District Q, I get a strong sense that the schools belong to the community. There’s a lot of we language … and it’s not us in contrast to the mysterious Them, either. It’s us, the people of District Y, and our school to which we welcome you.
At Former School, it was always us in contrast with them, whether they were “those parents” or “those kids” or community members or Those Mysterious Powers. I’m not sure whether that difference caused, contributed to, or resulted from the very different perceptions of ownership.
But I do know that at Former School, if I’d asked students to define a problem for me, they would have struggled. Defining problems and proposing solutions? That’s not “our” job at Former School; it’s “their” job. But when I asked the intermediate branch of the District Y Latin Family to define the problem (why is it so hard for us to make these Character Diagrams?), they very quickly owned the problem: “too much unfamiliar vocabulary.” We’re trying a different solution: everyone is looking at two “virtual pages” of the next few stories and sending me a list of the vocabulary they don’t recognize. I’ll compile a master list, complete with definitions, and we’ll use that as we’re reading.
“I don’t know a lot of the words,” P told me last year at about the equivalent time. “There should be a vocabulary list or something.”
Can you feel the difference between P’s response and the District Y Latin Family response? They could both identify the problem, and the problem was actually quite similar. But P, after a decade or so as a student in Schools In These Parts, wouldn’t have thought to propose a solution. N, G, and the others at District Y? Proposing a solution seemed natural to them … because owning the problem … and the results seems natural to them, too.
I don’t want to discount or diminish the good work we did in All Those Years at Former School. But no matter what we did, it was hard for Latin Family members there to own problems … and results. “You’re the teacher,” someone said to me more than once, “so you should….” And when I talked with colleagues about problems they identified? “That’s the principal’s job; that’s why they make the big bucks,” Ms. X or Mr. Y would generally respond.
I’m still struggling to define the differences, let alone explain them … and I’m not sure what to do if I do manage to define things clearly. I obviously won’t be calling Ms. X and Mr. Y to tell them “This is why things are different for you.” I won’t be emailing frustrated Powers That Be of my acquaintance to share my new understanding. But there’s something important about the joyful learning community we’ve formed at District Y and District Q … and something important, too, about the ways we’ve formed it and the ownership the Latin Family members have taken. On this Friday afternoon, as District Y students cheer for The Team, I’m cheering for all of them … and I’m wondering what other new insights and discoveries we’ll share in the days and weeks to come.