For the past several years, my colleagues at school have been complaining about one particular “bad and lazy” set of students, If you’ve ever taught in a school, you can probably imagine what they say. “They don’t do their work,” Ms. X intones, “and they have such a negative attitude. And all they do is go home and play video games all day. And they sit around after school for an hour or more! What’s wrong with them?”
Yes, those “bad and lazy” students, the ones who “go home and play video games all day,” would happily spend an hour or two at the school each afternoon. There’s a set of tables and benches where they sit in the afternoons, where they sit and chat and perhaps play a game or two on someone’s phone, tablet, or laptop. They’re in but not of the school during that time … or maybe I should say at but not of, because the doors to the buildings are locked at a Stated Time.
But there’s something about the place that attracts them, despite the labels Ms. X and Mr. Y have put on them. There’s a sense of community … and, oddly enough, those “bad and lazy ones” sometimes even do Ms. X’s brain-numbing homework assignments, those worksheets and copied definitions, while they sit and chat with each other. A lot of them drive to school, so it’s not a transportation issue. They like spending time with each other, and they like doing so at but not of school.
So … how might we go about designing a passion- and interest-focused after-school community around their preferences? And I definitely want to include the community members themselves in that “we!” Otherwise there’s no ownership … and why would you come to something “They” built, something that (by definition when you’re a teenager) simply must be horrible because “They” built it, when you could just keep hanging out with your friends in the existing structure where you do feel some ownership?
Here’s my very preliminary set of thoughts.
Step 1 has to involve a real, authentic conversation with “the bad and lazy ones” … and that’s not too hard because many of them are, or have been, members of the “Latin Family.” Would you like an indoor spot (and restroom access) once or twice a week, with the price of some minimal supervision and guidelines? If no, then we’re done, at least for now.
If yes, Step 2 would be our first “official” meeting. Depending on who’s there and how much we already trust each other, that might go several different ways. But I think it’s important for me to be open about Roz’s idea of the Cognitive Refugee, to see if it resonates with them as much as it’s resonated with me. I just realized – and commented both here and here – that different Cognitive Refugees are at different places of need, and I realize it might just help if we placed ourselves on a scale from “floundering a bit” to “actively drowning.” I can imagine cluster groups sharing their thoughts and feelings … and I can imagine some real surprises, empathy, and insight when A and B, who are “floundering,” start talking with X and Y, who are “drowning.”
Step 2 (or Step 3) might also “just happen” to involve a game that “just happens” to help you think about your learning and thinking preferences. The game cards that Kelly Tenkely uses to help “detox” students at Anastasis Academy at the beginning of the school year wouldn’t be hard to use. And if you happened to be floundering (a little or a lot), a greater understanding of how your thought processes differ from those of the “ideal successful school student” might help you move from floundering to surviving if not thriving.
Anyway, after a few sessions of getting to know ourselves and each other, we would have shared our passions and interests as well as our learning preferences and our level of drowning. Without specifics, it’s hard to describe the next few steps. But, speaking very generally, we – all together or in smaller groups, depending on who we are and what we wanted – would come up with something meaningful to build together. It might be a film about what we’ve been doing; it might be some kind of project that helps the whole school (and our families) in some way; it will probably be something I can’t even imagine as I sit here and type on a rainy Saturday. And then we’ll build it, and share it with the audience we’ve decided to share it with. And if we do this right, our numbers will grow and the idea will spread.
And is that why I need to spend a few more months in but not of the factory structure? Will that turn things around, both for me and for the Cognitive Refugees who flock to the school (since it’s a “choice program” and has a reputation for welcoming “unusual” students) and to the Latin Family (because, well, that’s what they do – I don’t really know why)? And will that help you, loyal readers and builders of joyful learning communities? If so, then I guess the pain and difficulty of the past few years will be transformed into joy and beauty. And if not, it’s still worth trying.
What do you think?