On a typical school day, I look at incoming school e-mail three or four times: once before school starts, once around lunch time, and then – since I don’t have students at the very end of the school day this semester – once or twice as I work on things during that “planning” period. On Friday, just before lunch, there was an urgent message from a Fairly Important Power about a meeting to be held this afternoon, one that the Power hoped I’d be able to attend. Of course there was also another meeting scheduled by another Power, with an entirely different agenda and set of priorities … and sometime before Wednesday, I need to have a brief physical or virtual pre-meeting with some colleagues to prepare for an entirely different meeting scheduled by the First Power.
In each case, the agenda is full, but the goals aren’t always clear. ”It’s about this new online tool that we’ll all be using in the next few years” – which is obviously good to know about, but the specific goals aren’t stated. ”Is this the meeting where we sit with These Groups or Those Groups?” Ms. X will surely ask at lunch. ”And do I need to bring That Book? Or my computer? Or what?” And then there are the meetings to report on the other meetings, and the ones to plan upcoming sessions. If you’ve ever worked in an organization of any size, you know about all kinds of meetings.
But as I contemplate my calendar for the next few days, I have a sense of what every day at school can feel like for students in the factory model. Their whole day consists of meetings – seemingly random, purposeless ones where Ms. X drones on about Something Or Other, stopping occasionally to yell and label if someone isn’t copying the PowerPoint or “paying attention.” If you asked Ms. X about the goal of a particular class, she’d tell you something about covering this material or giving notes, explaining the concept or keeping them focused . And sometimes she’d fret and worry about too little time … or too much time and tap-dancing and keeping them busy on days when Ms. X and her students alike would rather be doing other things.
And yet, if you asked Ms. X’s students – or any students in any class at any time – about the goals or purposes of a particular class, what would they say? Many a Ms. X makes them copy down those “I can statements” from the board, mainly because Various Powers have insisted that she write such statements and share them with students. I think One Ms. X, when she takes up students’ notebooks and painstakingly “grades” them, takes off points – I’m not sure how many – if the statements are missing. But copying such statements doesn’t always lead to an understanding of the purpose … and in turn, Ms. X and Mr. Y write the statements not necessarily to reveal the purpose of that class, but to “stay out of trouble” if by chance a Power should drop by.
Meanwhile, in the joyful learning community of the “Latin Family,” I think and hope our goals and purposes are usually clear, and that what we’re doing is aligned – not just in my mind or in the written plans I made for the week, but in each learner’s perspective, too – with the goals and purposes we’ve set. I’d been worried about the upper-level group, but we had a tremendous success on Friday, and I think it was because purposes and processes seemed so clearly aligned. Our best, most creative writers of Latin all happened to be on the same field trip, so I’d deliberately scheduled a writing workshop for the rest of us. I’d developed a scenario: a young tribunus militum, serving in the same legion as now-grown Lucius Valerius in Tres Columnae Lectiō XXXVI, falls in love – or something – with a local girl, who may or may not like him in return. For my students in this military town, many of whom are products of such relationships – and many of whom are planning on military careers themselves – it was about as immediate and relevant as anything can be, and they jumped into the process of deciding on a plot arc, brainstorming vocabulary, and trying to put things together into a short, simple, but meaningful story of at least 4-5 sentences. We’ll be finishing and sharing our products today, and I think everyone is excited – with the possible exception of B, C, and D, who didn’t get much done on Friday and have their work cut out for them today.
Meanwhile, with the holiday season rapidly approaching, the Latin I classes are starting the sequence of stories about the dinner party gone horribly wrong in Lectio XI. We’ll be making a filmed version, which may or may not have a different ending from the stories as they currently exist, and each person will have a different – and important – character to represent. We’ll be talking about characterization, then re-reading the stories where our characters are important to learn as much as we possibly can about them … and that knowledge, in turn, will affect the scripting and the performances. With the purpose in mind, it will be a lot easier to stay focused on the reading as Thanksgiving Break approaches, and as Ms. X and Mr. Y start saying desperate things about so much to cover and too little time.
I’m glad the meeting I will be attending this afternoon is the one with the most clearly-defined purpose … but I’m also grateful for the reminder about the importance of goals and purposes not just in those after-school meetings, but in the daily shared work of our learning community. When you’re working to build and sustain such a thing, the seeking and defining of goals and purposes is at least as important as the goals themselves. That’s important to remember in a context where, all too often, meetings happen because they happen or because they’re on the calendar, where stuff is done because we do it or because we did it last year.
I wonder what new insights we’ll all discover today!