Authority and Initiative, V

Thursdays are often my busy days – and yesterday was especially busy, with a “Code Red Lockdown Drill,” a “required benefits enrollment meeting,” and a “Professional Learning Community” meeting that we’d decided to schedule after the “benefits enrollment” one.  I have a weekly commitment on Thursdays at 5:30 in the afternoon, too, so I tend to stay at school till 5:00 or so to catch up or try to get ahead.  So Thursday was a day when I thought a lot about authority and initiative, but I also thought a lot about spending and wasting time.

Disaster drills are an important part of the operational side of schools … but if one appears on a calendar at a designated time, it’s hard to keep students or teachers focused when that time is approaching.  And if a drill gets delayed past the designated time, it’s hard to know what to do about the teaching and learning activities you’ve planned.  Do you forge ahead in the face of uncertainty, or do you find a stopping point and wait?  It’s a complex blend of authority, initiative, spending time, and wasting time, especially if the delay is more than a few minutes.  And of course it’s hard for students – and teachers – to focus on spending time well after a major interruption like that.

As for “employee benefit enrollment meetings,” well, if you work for a large organization, you know what those can be like.  And you can see the connections to authority, initiative, and the many uses of time.

As for Professional Learning Communities, that’s a term with many possible meanings.  My face-to-face school district has embraced the terminology but hasn’t exactly settled on a common model.  So schools here have been struggling both to define and to implement PLCs for a few years.  PLCs are hard work even in an elementary school where the organizational structure (grade-level teams) is obvious.  They’re even harder for secondary schools (subject-area teams? course-specific teams??), and harder yet for a small school like ours.  After an interesting attempt at interdisciplinary groups, we’ve settled on a departmental approach.  So today was a meeting of the World Languages and Business Computer Applications group – combined partly for administrative convenience, but partly because both are skill-based academic subject areas.

That meeting was the highlight of my work day!  For one thing, it’s a very congenial group, and for another, we’ve all been struggling to make the transition from knowledge transmission to building skills and understandings with our students.  Our brief meeting had some connections with authority (we have to meet twice a month, and there was material we had to discuss), but the emotional tone was positive because of the initiative we were taking and because we were spending time together with a common purpose.

By the end of that long, busy day, I was grateful once again – grateful, above all, to reconnect with congenial colleagues who are also moving along an uncharted path.  And grateful for the odd blend of authority and initiative that had made it all possible, and even for the wasted time (right before the drill and, well, you know) that helped me appreciate the time well spent.

How does the use – and misuse – of time resonate when you think about your context of work, rest, teaching, and learning?  And how does time relate to issues of authority and initiative that you face?

quid respondētis, amīcī?

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Published in: on September 21, 2012 at 9:48 am  Comments (3)  

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  1. I think that the tension you describe in authority and initiative permeates professional organizations – how do we create a culture of exploration, ideation, invention AND keep the flow of work moving in a steady stream? How do people come to value gathering to think and learn together vs seeing that time as an interference to their own work? How do we accomplish “good of the order” biz w/o having it become the main thing we serve? Why should we think about these questions?

    We humans are conditioned to sustain status quo in our lives. Schools have been the transmitters of order and compliance over the last century – the builders and suppliers of the factory workforce. I was in an elementary charrette yesterday where kids in multiage groups described what they wanted in their built environment – bluebird robots to welcome kids to school, tree houses on the playground for reading, a kids lounge, round tables in the cafeteria, fresh food, choices of where to play at recess, new colors in learning spaces, more time to run, picnic tables they can use, doors to the outdoors from their rooms, tables shaped like animals, sculpture in the halls, a castle with a dragon.

    Kids dream together naturally when given the opportunity in school just as tribes have done forever. It’s key to being human but we seem to have eradicated the flow of creating, designing, building, making from schools so that we can get everything punched in on a time clock. Yet, civilization advances from dream work – and I think schools woukd too if we reduced the authority work commitment and increased the initiative opportunity work commitment. sometimes, it helps to see and hear kids work with no strings attached to their dreaming work- it reminds me of what we adults have lost as we’ve learned to dance to the tune of the factory whistle.

    • Pam, thanks so much! I don’t think there’s anything I can add, except to say that I just love the image of us adults “dancing to the tune of the factory whistle” while our children look on in … what? Surprise? Bemusement? Bewilderment? Horror?

      I’m so glad the conversation is continuing both here and on .

  2. […] seems that Friday’s post has sparked another great set of conversations, both here and on the Google+ thread I started about it.  And several comments in both places have to do […]


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