Getting to Work

By early Wednesday afternoon, I had a self-imposed “homework assignment” (the design thinking task I set for myself in yesterday’s post).  I also had an assignment from a friend, who told me I simply must watch this video, in which Evan Gardner demonstrates the Where Are Your Keys language-learning game.  And by early evening, I knew I also needed to watch Geoffrey Canada’s TED talk about why, after so many years of “not working,” schools continue to do what hasn’t worked … and what to do about it.

I’ve made good progress on all three tasks.

With the design thinking problem, I started out by creating an empathy map for a person named me.  I’ve never tried to do that before!  But as I considered my thoughts, words, actions, and feelings over the past several days, patterns started to become clear.  I’ve been struggling with finishing things over the past few years … and that hasn’t normally been an issue for me.  But as I look around the physical environment, I see unfinished tasks, half-finished projects, things I planned, hoped, or needed to do – but then there “wasn’t time” or I was “too busy,” and sometimes I even got sick when I’d planned to work on important, but not urgent tasks.

What is it about finishing things that seemed so hard, so difficult?   As long as something is unfinished, not shared with the wider world, it can’t be judged, rejected, or accepted.  As I sat with my empathy map, I realized I’ve always been more scared of things being accepted than rejected!  As a child, I got an early label of “smart” and “talented” and “creative,” but I never quite believed it.  I’d compare my actual efforts with what I thought I could have done, and of course they never measured up.

That’s why my needs analysis includes the phrase “put away childish things.”  One of the childish things is that desire to be judged – and found wanting – by others.  It’s attracted me to roles and structures where Powers That Be are seen as sitting in judgment, unhealthy structures that encourage fear and dependency.  If awareness is the first step, I’m now thoroughly aware!  But what’s the second step?

My problem statement focuses on building the dream, on finishing an imperfect version, putting it out there, and then improving it.  You can see how “putting away childish things” will be an important part of that!  Finishing the first phase of the needs analysis was important, and so was watching the two videos.  Oddly, it was important not to watch all of the Where Are Your Keys video!  As Evan Gardner points out, you have to know when you are mentally “full.”  For me on Wednesday, that happened after about 20 minutes of the 80-minute video.  Full.  So I trusted myself, trusted my intuition, and stopped.

It’s hard to trust yourself and your intuition after you’ve worked in a factory-structure for a while.  In factory-schools, someone or something else is always in charge.  If you’re a student, it’s Your Teacher; for teachers, it’s Those Administrators; for my administrator friends, it’s The Schedule or Central Office, Policy or Powers That Be. “Can I go to the bathroom?” students ask, even though teacher after teacher has told them to say “May I?”  Why?  Well, partly because  that distinction is artificial in today’s language, but partly because factory-system participation encourages you to doubt your own agency.  I’m not sure I actually can go to the bathroom, or wherever, unless Some Power tells me I can.

I woke up this morning to find this blog post by Paul Thomas in my Twitter stream.  He talks about factory-model structures as “education done to students” and many so-called “progressive” alternatives as “education done for students.”  My two meetings on Tuesday were great examples of the Dr. Thomas sees to and for as two sides of the same coin, which won’t surprise you if you’re a Latin teacher (or a linguist) and are familiar with the functions of the dative case:

In the end, education done to students and education done for students fail those students since they both ignore the agency of the learner (and the teacher) and allow outcomes that are arbitrary and symbolic to replace authentic demonstrations of understanding grounded in the wants and needs of the learner.

My two meetings on Tuesday were great examples of the close connection between the to and for approaches.  In both, the presenters started out with every intention of doing things for their participants.  But when things got difficult, or time got short, or the “bad, lazy teachers” resisted, out came the to approach in full force.  “If they don’t get it, it’s on them,” as my Minor Power said.  “Please just give me a worksheet and tell me what to put on it,” the Good Students beg.  If you haven’t yet, you’ll want to read the part of Dr. Thomas’s post where he talks about – and quotes at length from – this article about “the good-student trap.”

As he notes, the opposite of the to and for approaches is  “education done with students,” or what we call joyful learning community.  But you can’t package that and sell it as a simple checklist or program the way you can with to or for.  It’s as slippery, but essential, as its grammatical counterparts the ablative and locative cases.

And that’s where the next step of the work lies, I think, because team, place, and time are all things Latin speakers would represent with ablative-case constructions.  You’re in or with a team, you’re in a place (and you go there from another place), and you do things at a given time or in a given period.  I’m still standing at the crossroads, but things are getting clearer … and at least I know what I need to move from.

I wonder what new insights and adventures await today!

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Published in: on August 8, 2013 at 1:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

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