Emotional Barometers

Within the first few days of school, I discovered that T and B, in the large Latin I class, are extremely intuitive and emotionally sensitive.  Ms. X would have noticed that they’re usually sweet, diligent, and cooperative, and she might grumble occasionally about things like attitude or distractions, about getting off task and talking to neighbors.  But what jumped out – one day when I wasn’t feeling all that well, but couldn’t exactly identify the reason – was their intuition.

“Mr. S,” asked B, “are you feeling OK?  Because it seems like something is bothering you, or something.”  T agreed.  “I was getting worried about you,” she said.

And I realized that, in fact, something was bothering me.  I hadn’t been feeling well the day before, so I hadn’t been able to do one fairly minor thing … and then, when I did do the fairly minor thing that morning, it left me feeling just a bit rushed.  “You are both really intuitive, and really in touch with that side of yourselves, aren’t you?” I asked – and of course they agreed, because they know themselves well.  “That will be really helpful,” I told them, “because if something is wrong or even just a little bit off, you’ll be able to notice and tell us.  I’m so glad!”

Ms. X and Mr. Y?  They might have smiled sweetly and denied everything on a good day, or yelled and labeled about being respectful and minding your own business, about who’s the teacher and who’s the student, about calling parents and The Office, if it had been a really terrible day.

I’m just glad B and T are members of the Latin Family!

Yesterday morning, after I’d written a blog post – and a fairly lengthy email – on a virtual phone keyboard, I wasn’t feeling unwell, but I was certainly out of my comfort zone.  And B and T noticed.  So did everyone, because apparently the first direction I gave the large class wasn’t very clear.  At just the right moment, they both asked if anything was wrong … and I told them about the unusual start to our morning.  And we all laughed, and the tension disappeared … and we turned off the overhead lights, which, we’ve discovered, can have a profound influence on our emotional climate.  They’re the standard fluorescent kind, and there’s something about the light spectrum they emit – and the faint, inaudible-but-present buzz they sometimes generate – that can exacerbate negative, troubled feelings.

The Former Classroom’s windows were just as big as those of the New Classroom.  You’d think we wouldn’t have needed the overhead lights.  But we did – or we thought we did – at least in the mornings.  And for several years, I could feel tension rise when I turned those lights on … but lacking emotional barometers like T and B, I ignored my intuition, gritted my teeth, turned on those lights, and … if you’re a long-time reader of this blog, you know that we had some tense, difficult moments. I don’t want to attribute all of them to the lights, but the lights were a factor – and so was my tendency, in those days, to ignore intuition and go on with the program, to embrace the factory-mindset that was still very much alive inside.  And yet, all the while, as I worked with participants in the online professional-development class, I’d remind them of the importance of physical climate, and they’d make plans to reduce the amount of fluorescent lighting, to increase the use of full-spectrum, natural light.  To open the blinds, let the sunlight in, and feel as well as see the difference.

It seems I really need emotional barometers around!  My internal one was severely decalibrated!

And the beauty of a joyful learning community, of course, is that each member brings something unique and important to the circle.  In Ms. X’s classroom – or in “mine” back when I thought it was “mine” rather than “ours” – The Teacher “has to” do everything, an exhausting and frustrating and impossible task indeed.  At lunch on Wednesday, One Ms. X was complaining about a former student – she doesn’t even see him this year, it seems – who had asked if he could take a digital picture of “her” notes on the board rather than copying them by hand into a notebook.  It seems he was a really visual learner, and he was fairly sure he could learn the material without physically copying it.  No, Ms. X had told him, that wouldn’t do at all … because “you’ll have a notebook check, and that information needs to be in your notebook when I check it.”

My heart broke for everyone.  The student had learned, once again, that what’s really important – at least in Ms. X’s class – is task compliance, not learning.  He’d also re-learned that any innovation will be, must be, crushed, at least in Ms. X’s class.  And having known Ms. X for years, I know she spent countless hours checking notebooks … and quite a lot of time complaining about how she “had to” check them, and some more time fussing and fretting about how “bad” the notebooks were.  If she had an emotional barometer or two around – and if she were willing to pay attention – perhaps Ms. X could have avoided a whole lot of time and trouble.

But the thing about emotional barometers – and about the joyful learning communities in which they function best – is that you can’t force yourself, or anyone else, to pay attention to them.  The barometers are there, but you can decide to ignore them.  The community is at least potentially there, but you can ignore it, too.  You can strive for “perfect” control, try to do everything for, not with the “bad, lazy ones” … or you can open yourself up to the process, work with, not for your fellow learners, and see what happens then.

I wonder what will happen today!

Published in: on September 19, 2013 at 10:52 am  Leave a Comment  

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