Finding the Balance, IV

For my students, my colleagues, and me, the long-but-short week is ending.  Our Spring Break begins this afternoon, with an “early release” for everyone, and most of us will be involved with Field Day activities today.  When the school was new, there was “always” a Field Day on the very last day of school, after the last final exam had been administered.  Several years ago, a string of brutally hot June days ended the old tradition.  It’s good to see it return – now as a prom-fund fundraiser  – but at a better time of year, with a different structure, and with a lot of student ownership of the process.  T, U, and L eagerly await the basketball tournament; there are multiple volleyball teams; and there’s even a kickball tournament later in the day, when it will be warm enough to be outside for a while.  It’s a good way to ease into the much-needed break.

“Is there anything I should do over Spring Break?” N asked me.  “I know I need to work on vocabulary and reading.”  So I suggested to her – and to another N, andothers who asked – that they go back through the Tres Columnae Project stories, find the place where reading feels effortless, and re-read (and re-listen, if that helps) starting there.  But what most of my students need most – as tired and full as they currently are – is a chance for things to settle, for the fullness to abate.  The research on distributed practice  and spacing is clear, convincing, intuitive … and utterly ignored by factory-model schools.  For herself, Ms. X complains about “grading all that work” and being “too tired to do anything.”  She’ll proudly proclaim on April 8 that she “did absolutely nothing” about school over Break.  But she’ll hand out lengthy “packets” to her students, due on that first day back.  After all, there’s “so much to cover!”

I was talking with quiet, thoughtful B about that on Wednesday afternoon, and about the research, as he finished his part of the AP group’s Major Assessment Product.  They’re comparing the leadership styles of Julius Caesar (as he depicts himself in Books I, IV, and V of De Bello Gallico) and Aeneas (as Vergil depicts him in Books I and II of the Aeneid) – and, in the process, they’re thinking about culturally-specific forms of leadership and more universal forms.  That led to a discussion of the Roman Senate – and the idealized vision of Roman Republican government – as the model America’s founders used, and a related discussion of why that wasn’t “covered” in B’s Civics class.  Short answer: it isn’t on The Test, and of course there’s “too much to cover.”  I thought of a Civics student I know, at another school, whose teacher told the class “This course really isn’t very interesting” on their first day. With that introduction – and that attitude toward the topic – no wonder her students are disengaged and unmotivated!  I wonder if That Teacher, like a Ms. X I once knew, “takes up” her students’ vocabulary flashcards and keeps them, fearing someone might “cheat” by taking a previous student’s cards?  And I wonder if either sees any irony in depriving students of those learning materials, while recycling “my PowerPoints” and “my worksheets” – or, likely, the ones that “came with the book” – from year to year to year?

Balance … it’s connected, I think, with purpose, and setting purpose is an essential function of leadership.  Schools have been embracing the word recently – last week, in a meeting, we were reminded that “teachers are educational leaders, too” – but like many 20th-century legacy organizations, we struggle with the concept.  Management – we understand the how and the why of that.  But leadership was supposed to belong to Them, the Powers That Be, safely removed from Us in the trenches.  As that continues to change, Ms. X, Mr. Y, our colleagues, and I are still struggling to define our new roles.  Perhaps that’s why routines and procedures are so hard to build, and why purpose and process get disconnected.

Emily’s Google+ comment yesterday builds on that idea:

So how do we make routines fun, purposeful, and meaningful? I find that when I tell my students WHY we do the routines we do in my class, and they realize that it decreases the chaos, routines become fun and meaningful for the students.

I often openly address the issue of chaos and randomness with them and encourage the meaningful dialogue about randomness of education.  They tell me a lot about how the school sets “routines” and they don’t understand why these are set.  Result being that they have no idea why they are doing what they are doing, and thus these routines are meaningless.

Routines without purpose are useless to learning.

And Diana added this:

When I set routines at home or in my classroom, my children and students know why I set them.  I always make sure to explain this.  And yet, my students’ lives are random.  They tell me this often.  To them, and to many of my colleagues, nothing is connected.

I am so sick of teachers with the “Do as I say, not as I do” attitude.  Like that post you made a while ago about deadlines.  Anyway, it is time to start practicing what we preach.  We need to model our routines, our practices, and even show our failures.  We’re human, after all.  Our students are becoming robots…How do we show that we are human and make them human?

Management, as Stephen Covey said, is about things and processes; leadership is about people.  The great 20th-century dream – the one that factory-model schooling was intended to fulfill – was to produce interchangeable worker-people who could be managed like things.  It failed, as false dreams do.  But in the wake of its failure, what will we do to build new structures, new dreams, grounded in reality and joyful community?

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Published in: on March 28, 2013 at 10:32 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. Great questions. I think it all boils down to meaningful practice. Today I spoke to students about my classroom quest which is to help everyone learn as much as possible. I said that I felt strongly about that because I believe that learning gives power and power gives choice and choice brings happiness, and ultimately I really want them all to be happy. I said that learning gives one “super hero powers” Then we talked about community and how we all play a role in helping each other learn, and the first part of that role is accepting each other and encouraging once another. They listened, they heard me and the learning after that was empowered. I find that I, too, have to continually ask myself the essential questions so that my practice is centered on what’s most important and the fundamental reasons why I teach. Thanks for your continued, thoughtful dialogue, stories and questions, Justin.


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