Unexpected Blessings

As I was writing yesterday’s post, it seemed fitting to end with an odd mixture of hope and sadness:

Disappointment and nostalgia are an odd recipe for a Sunday evening in August, an odd, sad way to begin a rainy Monday morning. But when you’re building something meaningful together, you have to bring your whole self to the work – even the disappointed, nostalgic, sad, angry parts. Every time I walk the labyrinth at church, I’m sure that this journey, too, just has a few more twists and turns. But new ones – or same-old-same-old ones – keep appearing.

I wonder what new adventures await on this old but new day and those to come. Thanks for being part of the journey, fellow builders and sustainers of joyful community.

Apparently that’s exactly what I needed. As I sat down, at the end of that long, eventful day, to draft this post, I realized that the key to dismantling factory-thinking is to dismantle it on the inside, in yourself, first. As I walked up those old, familiar steps and into that familiar school Media Center, it didn’t feel like a labyrinth or a maze at all. It felt like a crossroads – an inner one. “How was your summer?” people would ask … and I could either smile and lie or speak some truth. “I got a lot of rest,” I said, “especially last week when I had That Stomach Virus. And I had a wonderful trip to Memphis for a conference, and I got to see family, and these former students say hi” (I added that part for the folks who would remember them; it’s been a long time). “And how was yours?”

Variations on that conversation happened throughout the day … a very different conversation from the one I would have had a year ago, where I would have smiled and pretended that all was “just fine” or “just about perfect.” And then the lengthy first-day meetings started … and, all at once, I realized something important. Our Actual Local Powers hate factory-thinking and factory-schooling too! They used the word rigor, but they used it to mean higher-order thinking and collaboration, matching tasks to students’ readiness and learning by making products. “Do you think,” I asked during a break, “that we could get an organization like this started here?” Yes, was the enthusiastic answer.

Of course it wasn’t a perfect day. There were special new initiatives and mandatory trainings, a 70-item agenda which (by dictate from Much Greater Powers) had to be read in its entirety. But somehow we finished All That Stuff by mid-afternoon, leaving a good two or three hours to “get classrooms ready.” I walked into the New Classroom and … I could breathe. It’s a peaceful, airy room, much bigger than the Old One, with beautiful hardwood floors, ceiling fans, a whole wall of windows, and built-in bookcases on one wall. Thirty desks formed themselves easily into clusters (but not clumps) of four (and one cluster of two) with plenty of room for work tables along the back wall. Stuff that had cluttered up the Old Classroom’s storage closet took up less than a third of those built-in bookcases. The Latin Family’s collection of plaster columns, an old tradition I hadn’t brought out of the closet in years, now stand at attention around the room. A few posters need to go up, but “the room is ready,” as Ms. X would say.

And I’m ready, too … ready in a way I haven’t been in a very long time. Folks stopped by to see if I needed any help … and I discovered I actually didn’t. Ms Q, who’s known me since before I started working there, stopped by to see how I liked the new room and how things had been. “You know,” I told her, “the past few years, when I was so unhappy – which of course she’d noticed – a lot of it had to do with That Other Room.” No need to hide behind an artificial smile. Then Ms J, who had suggested the change of room to the Powers, came by to see if I liked it. “Your classes are big,” she said, “and that other room is so small!” And again, gratitude, and no need to hide behind a factory-mask.

“Have the courage,” Mike suggested recently, “to think small.” That’s how change happens. When he said it, I was thinking “small, like one or two families building a *joyful learning community* kind of school,” or maybe “small, like five or six kids building an after-school program.” But that’s not where I needed to focus! *Small*, as in *with me*, as in discarding my own factory-mindset, letting the fever burn the last of it out of me. That’s where I needed to start.

What’s left where factory-fear and factory-pleasing used to be? A whole lot of gratitude, and a focus on small things. Ms. N, who’s sometimes quite negative, thought a maker-focused after-school program was a fantastic idea; she’ll be looking at her students and sending me potential names. Ms. H and I talked about cursive handwriting, of all things, and found an area of agreement: with all the controversy about teaching the writing of cursive, no one seems to be teaching students to read it. Isn’t that the more important skill? Sharing struggles, sharing small joys … sharing life together, building community.

As Debbie reminded me on Google+ Monday morning, that sharing is important:

“even the disappointed, nostalgic, sad, angry parts” >>> these are lessons, teaching us about life, about our paths, what we should include in the future and what we should avoid and let go. They aren’t roadblocks but, rather, sign posts guiding us in the right direction. Don’t fight them, don’t hide them, but be grateful for them and utilize them in your present, for the future.

And George added that

I think it’s important to know that others are working through what you are. How do you keep your day job (existing obligations to yourself, family, students) while opening the door to whatever comes next? Also, keep your eyes and ears open. You may have a local colleague or two going through similar pangs but not having an outlet such as our PLN.

How do you build a joyful community? The first step is simple: start anywhere, as the Walk Out Walk On folks say, and follow it everywhere.

I wonder where that path will lead me today!

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Published in: on August 20, 2013 at 9:39 am  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] go into any details, but I knew my colleagues had been worried about me … and as I said in yesterday’s post, I’m no longer willing to hide my struggles behind the factory-mask.  E, who’s known […]

  2. […] site:joyfullatinlearning.wordpress.com) reveals that the word rigor inspired a post last June, another last August, and lots of others, including one of the earliest posts I published here back in […]

  3. […] they’d come together at all!  I was feeling stuck and frustrated … but not the way I felt a year or so ago, when I was struggling with a stomach virus and with the sudden, unwelcome realization that […]


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