Rest for the Weary? II

Monday afternoon’s “school-based” meeting was mercifully short, and after it was over, I ran into my colleague C, who had been in charge of a morning “content-area” session – and he had well over fifty teachers, some unexpected, rather than my four.  “I hate teaching teachers,” he said vehemently.  “They’re so negative and unpleasant, and they talk and interrupt and come in late … but you know they’d be in the face of any student who acted that way in their class.”

And I nodded and sympathized … and had other versions of that conversation several more times before the end of the day, with other folks who had been “fortunate” enough to present sessions in the morning.  It had been a long, difficult morning!

In C’s case, a decision had to be made: classroom or auditorium location.  Then, after they’d committed to a classroom, C said, more than a dozen additional attendees began to arrive  – some well over an hour late, with the excuse “We didn’t know where to go.”

Things were less chaotic for me … but there had been two different plans sent out for our first morning session, a “Gallery of Best Practices” where most the World Languages teachers would rotate through four of six possible stations.  We Latin teachers had our own “little gallery,” since my colleagues have made it plain, over the years, that they don’t like joint activities with their modern-language counterparts.  The first plan for the “gallery” involved different stations in different corners of a large room … but that proved logistically impossible, so the “gallery” moved over to the classrooms where the day’s main sessions would be held.

Despite emails – several of them – about the change in venue,  I had a feeling I might need to redirect helpless Sra. X (who never reads her email) and possibly Mme. Y, who “doesn’t get” emails sent to her.  And, sure enough, there was a cluster of helpless-looking teachers sitting, waiting, hoping the whole day had somehow been cancelled … and Mme. Y, who “didn’t get” the email(s) about the relocation, thanked me for helping her.

I’m not sure how the “gallery” went, but for Latin teachers T, F, E, and me, it was a generally productive day.  It’s been a hard year, though, for all of them – sickness in the family, difficult students, rough schedules, stressed-out coworkers.  “How do you manage,” someone asked me, “to be so positive?  You have the same stresses we do, and some of yours are even worse, but you stay positive.  How do you do it?”  I wasn’t sure how to answer at first, especially when I remembered this time last year, when I felt I was drowning in a toxic stew of negativity.  But then I realized something – something that probably does make a difference.  “I guess,” I told her, “that there is one thing: when there’s a bad situation, and a lot of it is out of my control, I try to focus my attention and energy on the things that I can control.  That helps me a lot.”

She looked at me, blankly.

The Circle of Influence, Stephen Covey called it.  When you focus your energy on that – on the things you can control and impact – you can actually achieve things, and over time your influence will increase.  But the factory mindset encourages a fretful focus on the Circle of Concern – the things you can’t control, the scary forces Out There that might just destroy you or hurt you or ruin everything.  Or all of the above.  And when you focus on the Circle of Concern, your influence decreases.

T, F, and E were fretting – a lot – about things they couldn’t control.  “How could I do a lesson like your ‘gallery’ one when my students are lazy and talkative?”  they asked.  “What about my grade-focused students and their parents?  What about my administrators?”  I could feel their sense of agency getting smaller and smaller, like a slowly-leaking, sad little balloon.  But by the end of the morning, they were feeling less un-energized, less hopeless.

What made the difference?  For one thing, we all affirmed each other, listened to each other, validated each other’s feelings.  That’s important when you’re building – or maintaining – a community.  And there was the way I approached our last session, which was “supposed” to be about proficiency-based assessment.  But I had realized something:  while I know what a proficiency-based assessment looks like, and how to develop them for my own classes, I have no idea how to develop a common one, even for the four of us.  So I told them, and I asked for help … and it seems that vulnerability was what we needed, because it led to a wonderful, productive conversation, real progress in laying the groundwork for writing common proficiency assessments.  Monday continued with more examples of unexpected community and community restored.

When you’re tired – not just physically tired, but emotionally and spiritually drained like my colleagues Monday morning – you long for community, but community seems too hard, too complex, too far away.  Somehow, by asking for help – and gratefully accepting it – I helped community get easier, simpler, closer.  Debbie put it this way on Google+:

At the centre of the joyful community is “I” and until “I” understand “me”, honour “me”, represent “me”, “I” will only be doing a half-hearted-compliance job. “I” need to know what I am doing, why I am doing it, how it impacts me and the larger community, and how to do it.

Somehow, by revealing “me,” I helped my colleagues understand and honor their “me”  … and that made all the difference.  How will I can take those lessons of admitting vulnerability and gratefully receiving help into the community-building work with my students?  Is that how you build and sustain joyful community in difficult times?  Is it that simple, that difficult, that easy, and that hard?

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Published in: on February 19, 2013 at 10:54 am  Leave a Comment  

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