For many teachers and students I know, today marks the “last day of freedom,” with classes beginning sometime in the next few days. For others, it’s a much-needed break after a month or more of classes. In These Parts, the Labor Day holiday falls, oddly enough, at the end of the first week of school. It’s a good time to pause and reflect; our next pause won’t come until late October.
It was a quiet weekend, spent mostly at home, though The Girl and The Boy each had enjoyable commitments each day. We spent a lot of time together, a lot more “sort of together,” each person intently reading or watching a different thing on a different screen. Thanks to a Twitter conversation last week, I had connected with Angela Dye, explored her website and bought the e-book version of her book. If you’re interested in build joyful community at all, especially where potential participants don’t feel joy or power or hope, I recommend it highly. I got to talk with Angela on the phone Thursday afternoon; it was one of those life-changing moments when you realize this person is on the same team. Despite vastly different life experiences and demographic descriptions, we found a shared commitment to building community with, not for others … and so many other connections! My mind is still reeling from that talk and from the deep, profound wisdom and immediate practical applications I found as I read.
It’s amazing to juxtapose Angela’s work in Milwaukee with Yaacov Hecht’s work in Israel. The language and the surrounding culture are different, but in Hecht’s book, too, I’ve been finding that notion of building community with, not for others. And all of us, it seems, are what my friend Roz calls “cognitive refugees.” Our thinking and processing styles don’t fit neatly into the “perfect student” category, regardless of our educational accomplishments. And despite our shared love of teaching and learning, of working with young people to help them (re)discover their joy and their purpose, we don’t fit neatly into the concrete-sequential processing style or the authority-orientation that “good little teachers” like Ms. X and Mr. Y display.
That got me thinking about team, place, and time on a deeper level. And then Angela asked me, in a Tweet over the weekend, if I could be more specific about what I mean by place. Then, on Sunday night, I had a tired, angry, cross-purpose conversation with a friend who (at least in that moment) was convinced that the time for me to transition out of factory-structures was ripe last summer and that I missed a golden opportunity.
But friend, the time wasn’t right, and I wasn’t ready, and that’s why team, place, and time wouldn’t come together.
When you’re building a joyful community with, not for others, and when those others don’t feel their own power, hope, or joy, a right team, place, and time are really important. As Jim Collins famously says, you want the right people in the right seats on the bus … and part of that involves being the right person yourself. Had I attempted to build that post-factory structure this summer, I wouldn’t yet have been a right person; you can see that when you read those posts and feel the inner pain and turmoil. Joyful community can help you escape from pain and turmoil. But if the builder goes in with a divided spirit, the building won’t be strong. I think that’s why the team wouldn’t come together in May, June, or July. It was only when I stopped trying to build it for me that I “just happened” to meet Angela; it was only when I returned to The School that I “just happened” to start meeting folks who want a joyful learning community here.
Does that help?
Place, too, is more complex than “just” a physical location. I’ve struggled to know about geographic locations: should we build Right Here, move out a little bit to a Surrounding Town or two, or pick up stakes completely, as my friend has done, seeking new opportunities and more fertile soil Somewhere Else? I’ve been so focused on finding a right buyer for the Current House, and on the struggles of one potential buyer after another, that I missed the point about place as well. Neither team nor place would come together when I wanted perfection and escape from them. The New Classroom, even though it’s only a few steps away from the Old One, has a totally different look and feel; it’s given me a new sense of how you can use an imperfect, but excellent place to build or suppress community. It was important for me to do place-related work on this small scale, to let go of false perfection with place as well as time. When I look at real-estate listings these days, I’m looking for excellent but imperfect places, not for the One Right Place. And remarkably enough, intriguing places that had appeared, but disappeared, months or even years ago are starting to reappear … with better prices, too.
And what about time? For a long time, I thought there’d be a perfect time, when everything came together and the signs were unquestionable. And I wanted that time to be the summer of 2013! I prayed, struggled, sought people out, felt one door after another slam shut … because, again, time is more complex than I’d realized. Time comes last in that haunting phrase (or at least it came last when the phrase came to me) because team and place are bound up in the time. When you don’t have the team or the place, it doesn’t matter how badly you want the time to be right. It won’t be, and it can’t be, because you’re not ready yet. And one big part of being ready, at least for me, has been learning to hold future plans loosely. I’m pretty sure I know what I’ll be doing today, but I’m open to being surprised. I’ve written detailed plans for my time with my students this week, but I’m ready to embrace the teachable moments in their joyful serendipity. Setbacks and surprises that would have enraged or terrified me once? I might get angry, even fearful, for a while, but I’m not overwhelmed these days.
Team, place, and time. Good things to think about on Labor Day and every day. What have I missed, and what was unclear, fellow builders and sustainers of joyful community?