According to the Posted Schedule, grades for the first reporting period were to be finalized no later than Monday evening … which really shouldn’t have been a problem for anyone, since the reporting period had ended last Wednesday. But under heavy use, the New Student Information System had some connection error messages by mid-morning, and Ms. X was fretful at lunch time. “Grades are due this evening, aren’t they?” she asked, and then she fretted and complained about too much to do and the new lesson plan form, about the meeting scheduled for Monday afternoon and her fears and worries. “I know why They scheduled that meeting today,” she said, “when grades are due tonight. It’s a punishment meeting or something.”
“No,” I told her, “I don’t think so.” There usually are meetings on Mondays, and theoretically – if you’ve been keeping up with things – there shouldn’t be much grade-related work for Ms. X, Mr. Y, or anyone else to do. If the Relevant Powers even looked at grade-related calendar issues, They probably scheduled the meeting in a belief (or at least a hope) that folks would be relatively free and unoccupied, able to focus on the various tasks that various committees would be undertaking. But Ms. X refused to be persuaded. “I need to sit down and Put Grades In this afternoon,” she said, “but what if Somebody walked in and saw me sitting down?”
it wasn’t just the New Student Information System that was experiencing Connection Errors.
At the meeting, Young Mr. N had a very different set of concerns. He’s taken over a program that used to be very strong, but had fallen on hard times and difficulties since his Legendary Predecessor retired a few years ago. His younger students are excited and happy, but his advanced students are angry. This is supposed to be an easy class, they’d told him. How dare you have different expectations from Young Ms. X last year? He’s working on building connections to support those expectations, but it’s a long, slow effort and connection errors are inevitable.
Young Ms. T was frustrated, too. “Why did you decide to take this class?” she’d asked one group of students, “when you aren’t very good at This Subject?” Some had wanted a GPA boost, some had expected Legendary Ms. F, who moved to a different school, and some said They had “just put me in here and I don’t even know why.” But Ms. T’s frustrations, like those of Young Mr. N, were very different from those of Ms. X. “My students want me to give them a worksheet and a set of steps to memorize,” she said, “but that’s not what they need, and it’s not what I’m going to do.” She, like Mr. N, is working to build connections to support her expectations of her students. But it’s slow, difficult work, and connection errors are inevitable.
I reassured them both with stories of connection errors I’ve made over the years, of connections that somehow formed with students, even whole classes, that initially seemed utterly resistant. But the work of building connections and communities is very different from the two clashing paradigms behind the conflicts between those colleagues and their students. For the teachers, there’s still a factory-notion of tasks and processes. If students would just do the tasks, surely they’d learn the information and understand the concepts! For their students, living in a broader society and a geographical area where retail and service are the largest private employers, there’s a retail-notion: I’m the customer, and even though I don’t really expect good service, I ought to get my needs and wants met. Why are you making me do these difficult things, Ms. X? Why won’t you just make it easy for me, Ms. T and Mr. N?
Building a joyful learning community is different, of course, because you build it with, not for other members. It’s the none of the above, yet all of the above alternative to those clashing factory and retail paradigms. We may run into connection errors along the way, of course – D, K, and L are still learning how to manage themselves when it comes to using technology, and B, B, and U still distract themselves after all the time we’ve known each other. But there’s something about a learning community that allows us to restore the connections and move forward, just as the folks who maintain the New Student Information System were able to get it back up and running, connection error free, within a few hours.
I hope Ms. X “got her grades done” on time. But I really hope Ms. X takes a moment to think about the purpose of Those Grades, the purpose of That Meeting, the purpose of Those Lesson Plans. “They were due first,” she fretted, “and that’s why I got behind with Those Grades.” I hope she’ll soon be ready to move beyond tasks and processes, beyond the factory and retail paradigms, into the joyful community that needs and values her perspectives. And I hope Mr. N, Ms. T, and their students will soon be ready, too.
I wonder what new connections – and what new discoveries from connection errors we face and solve together – we’ll all discover today!