Finding the Balance, I

After an unusually restful weekend, I drafted this post in a coffee shop on a chilly, drizzly Sunday afternoon. Things had come together to give a gift of rest and balance.  No one needed transportation; lesson plans and grades were updated; I’d caught up with participants’ responses in the Online Professional Development class.

Balance … and rest.  They’re important.

“I think,” said someone, “that we can make it to Spring Break.”  And it begins Thursday afternoon.  At school, Monday and Tuesday are Midterm Exam days, Wednesday is “just a day,” and Thursday – for those who buy tickets – is full of Field Day activities.

Last week, everyone seemed exhausted and out of balance.  When The One Ms. X screamed at H, she was overwhelmed by stress and So Much To Do; when H responded in kind, he felt equally overwhelmed.   I could see and feel the stress, so I scheduled time for students to decompress, talk about stressors, refocus.  It was hard, though, when so many came from Ms. X yelling about Doing The Study Guide, moved on to Mr. Y scolding about Studying Hard For That Exam.

Ms. X and Mr. Y, if asked, would say they really care – perhaps they “want those bad, lazy kids to  do well on those exams.”  So they hand out that “study guide” (with every single multiple-choice question on it), “go over” every answer, then yell and label when students are “off task.”  Tightly focused on managing the process, they forget about the goals.   They try to set boundaries, expectations, and limits … but they don’t clarify the purpose.

Debbie addressed that problem Friday on Google+:

I am reminded of a story of a parent-teacher night. The teacher told Mom some good stuff and then shared that the son sometimes had difficulties with anger. He would swear and hit others. Mom turned to the son, smacked him on the shoulder and said, “why the h— are you swearing?”  Role-modelling.

Boundaries: do we need them? Absolutely. We need to know expectations and where the limits are. We also need to develop self-control.
Respect: do we need it? Most definitely – and that means respecting that a child’s motivations, inner voice, and emotions are very similar to our own. That means that just as we have “legitimate excuses” for our angry outbursts, for our forgetfulness and missed deadlines, so do the students.
Self-awareness: is that part of education? Yes, indeed. Students should be taught how to look for barriers and challenges that they have and to find strategies to overcome and/or manage them. We, as mentors, should still be on this journey, identifying areas on which we can improve. Listening for our excuses is a good place to start.

Without purpose, boundaries and limits seem artificial and pointless.  X, Y, and the others are able to see limits, respect boundaries, manage themselves;  they just don’t see a need, since Ms. X and Mr. Y do it for them.  When you get used to being managed,  self-management seems impossible and pointless.

What does that mean for our joyful community?  Just as I wouldn’t ask anyone to read an “impossibly” difficult passage, I shouldn’t seek an immediate, perfect move from other-management to self-management.  As I build scaffolding, “problem” students become more active, focused, and involved. X and Y now apologize promptly after each signal. J turns her chair around when asked.  “We need to do the assignment,” people say.

With balanced ownership, I can relax, present in the moment, and my students can, too.  When I’m out of balance, tensely focused on managing things – or on making self-manage happen – they’re tense, too.  Balancing perspective, purpose, and boundaries is vital, but difficult, in factory-worlds where everything is urgent and “They,” by definition, give purposeless orders.

One day Loud, Louder, and Loudest were heading to lunch, heedless of their effect on nearby classes. “I’m sure you all don’t realize this,” I said, “but when you’re that loud, Ms. N and her whole class can hear it.”  They were surprised … not just because I was polite (Ms. X either yells and labels to silence or just ignores!) but because they’re rarely asked to think that way.  In factory schools, silenced students often lose their voices or, to compensate, adopt aggressively loud false voices  Their teachers do the same: silent when Powers That Be are there, loud and angry when it’s “just us and the kids.”

Maureen put it this way:

Just today, I was talking to students about the power of “rationale” and the fact that when we have a solid rationale for what we’re doing we tend to do a better job.  I talked about my rationale for reading and learning about teaching.  I told them about experiences in my life where schools didn’t do a good job, and times when schools did a good job.  I told them I believed in the power that a good education holds for happiness, peace, a better world and a better life.  I explained that this rationale is why I like to study and learn about education, and why I try new ideas.  I affirmed that schools aren’t perfect and I’m not perfect, but I know what’s possible, and I’m trying.

Hence to answer your question–we need to talk about voice and boundaries, vision and goals, structure and protocols.  We need to talk about what’s really important and make decisions together.  Sadly our still “factory like” school environments leave little time for quality conversation among staff–but when we do get the chance to speak and meet with students, we should make sure it counts.

Emily addressed these themes, too, with posts on Thursday about caring and  Friday about appreciation.

As we build Joyful Learning Communities, tension may be inevitable.  Too much is bad, but so is too little – picture a Slinky, coils completely relaxed, unmoving, useless. What will we  do today – each day – to  maintain the balance, manage our own tensions, help learners manage theirs?

Published in: on March 25, 2013 at 10:49 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. Thanks for your comments. The testing we’re now into really does a number on balance–resources and people are stretched. I had to go searching for someone just so I could make an important phone call in a timely fashion today. So I’m thinking about your questions, “What will I do to maintain balance.” Thanks Justin. Have a great day!

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