“You know,” I told two colleagues during the mid-morning welcome back ceremony on Monday, “things feel really different this year.” They agreed – there was a different spirit even though the structure and schedule of the day hadn’t changed much. For several years, the First Day has begun with about an hour of advisory-group meetings, followed by these welcome back activities, with shortened classes after that. If you compared this year’s schedule to the one from last year, only the date and a few names would have changed. But the feeling, the spirit? Totally different.
The purpose of the advisory-group meetings is to “cover the student handbook,” to talk about expectations and requirements and policies. With returning students, that’s quick and routine. But with twenty ninth-graders, all tense about a new school, a new phase of their educational journey? How welcoming, how community-building would it be for me to drone on endlessly? So my advisory group played Two Truths and a Lie with 5-6 pages of the Required Material at a time, much to the delight of a Relevant Power who stopped in to see us … and we had a sense of joyful community by the end of the hour.
The welcome ceremony “always” features silly competitions between grade-level groups, but this year’s student leaders added a twist: a year-long competition where classes earn points not just for winning events, but for the participation of the audience … and sometime in the spring there will be a big but mysterious prize. That game element – plus even sillier competitions than usual – made a difference, too. By the time we all headed to our first class of the day, a couple of hours into the new school year, you could see excited smiles where apprehensive faces had been.
All day long, as we began the process of building joyful community with the two Latin I classes and rebuilding with the upper-level group, I felt a positive spirit sustaining and buoying us. The two Latin I classes are very different in size – one has 33 students while the other has seven – but you could feel the joy in both. The large class, who would normally see me in the morning, came in the afternoon due to our first-day schedule. “How was your day so far?” I asked, and several people said long and boring. “Did you have to sit and listen while Someone read the syllabus to you?” Yes, of course. “The Latin Family is different” – and they half-believed me at first, but by the time we’d done what I described in yesterday’s post, they did believe. We haven’t finished that “old, familiar handout” yet, and we haven’t yet received the pronunciation guide … but we have discovered that learning Latin, learning any language, is a journey, and that we’ll begin as novices and grow more and more independent. And everyone has figured out the meaning of at least one Latin word from a picture or a symbol, with ownership in place of Ms. X’s lecture.
And the upper-level class? For them, today was all about the joyful surprise of how much they would remember from their previous Latin work. After our brief reorientation to joyful community and building meaningful things together, we formed groups to talk about things they liked from previous classes, things they disliked, and any new things they’d like to try. The groups made charts, and when they were finished they walked around the room to see what everyone else had listed. From then until lunch, using a different colored marker and the other side of the chart paper, they organized things they remembered and things they wondered about from previous Latin classes.
Those will be going up on the walls today or tomorrow, building ownership and reinforcing the message of excellent but imperfect.
After lunch, we talked a bit more about expectations, and then – in a change from what I’ve done for many years – we didn’t dive into a review of Latin noun forms. Instead, we read the first five pages of the first Tres Columnae Project bridging story together, with choral repetition, choral answers to questions, choral vocabulary identification. And it really was choral – even C and D, who didn’t feel very successful by the end of Latin II, were actively involved and delighted by how much they remembered. “Our real goal,” I said eventually, “was to surprise and delight you with how much you do remember. And how many people are surprised and delighted?”
Almost everybody was. Even K, who’s moving from another school and hadn’t had a Latin class in a few years, was smiling and starting to feel confident by then. Even B and U, two of the least auditory learners I’ve ever worked with, were feeling confident.
Look what can happen when you let go of perfection and embrace joyful community instead!
Today, of course, is Day 2 … the day when teachers know the “honeymoon” starts to end. But what if it doesn’t? What if you approach every day as an opportunity for a joyful new beginning?
The beginning classes will be wrapping up our “Match the Word” activity today – and the big class loved the rotation of materials, which means that rotation-focused activities will work well with them. Then we’ll see what we know or think we know about the Roman Empire in general and Mount Vesuvius in particular … and then we’ll read the first story or two in Lectio I and discover – perhaps to our surprise – how well we can understand Latin already. The upper-level group will do a vocabulary self-check activity I’ve described before, and then, if there’s time, we’ll look at these examples of the various ACTFL proficiency levels. We’ll read some more, we’ll re-introduce the Analytic Hand Signals that most of us love, and we’ll do a bit of work with Latin noun forms if there’s time.
But undergirding and supporting these activities, we’ll be building and sustaining a joyful community. That seems much more possible than it did a few short weeks ago! Yes, the factory-structure is still standing, and yes, that makes joyful community harder to build and sustain. But challenging doesn’t mean impossible, especially when it’s not me, but us doing the building.
Building something meaningful … together. Building and sustaining a joyful learning community. It doesn’t ever have to be perfect or finished. We can just keep building, together, a little bit more each day.
How does that sound?