Synergy … Or Something

Tuesdays are often the days when I do an errand or two after school … and I thought there was an important one I needed to do yesterday.  But there were several options, and I wasn’t sure which one would be best, and it had been a long, tiring day.  “You need to home first,” I realized, and so – a bit disgruntled by the undone errands – I headed home shortly after 3:00.

Of course you can probably guess the rest of the story.  Two pieces of really good news came in the mail, and one of them required a follow-up phone call.  And then I was tired, and I took (or tried to take) that much-needed nap.  And of course there was still plenty of time for the important errand.  There’s been time – and space, and resources, too – for all kinds of important things since I started focusing in on the important, letting the less-essential take care of itself.  Synergy … or something is always waiting to happen; you just need to give it time and space to thrive.

I’ve really noticed the synergy at school, where both the Latin I and upper-level classes are quite far ahead of the pace we’d followed for the last few years, but the levels of comprehension and mastery are where they should be.  Not necessarily where I’d love for them to be in a “perfect” world where everyone was completely focused, 100% of the time, on the shared work of the Latin Family … but where you’d expect them to be, given what each person has brought to the table.  “I’ve really been enjoying making the stories and plays this year,” C told me after school, and I’ve watched his proficiency levels in every language skill soar as he engages more and more deeply.  Meanwhile, B and U were trying to listen passively as they did the coloring Ms. X had assigned as homework in, yes, their upper-level science class … and they’re getting the results you’d expect from listening passively and unsuccessful multitasking.  D, who was so angry at his mom last week, has been channeling his anger in a positive direction, and we’re starting to see the results as his comprehension improves.  Slowly but surely, more and more of us are grasping the all-important lesson about effort and results, the one Ms. X would just love it if her “bad, lazy ones” already knew.

At lunch time, A Young Ms. X stood at the test-scanning machine, her anger increasingly evident as she saw the poor results of the day’s Big Test.  She’s been telling her students, it seems, that this is “where things get real,” but they haven’t quite believed her … and the poor results (“when I even let them use their notebooks for 20 minutes or so!”) had infuriated her.  I say A Young Ms. X – but actually she was only that for a few minutes, and then she asked what I thought she ought to do.  “How about a self-assessment,” I asked, “where they can tell you how well they thought they knew the material?”  And she liked the idea, and we talked about ways to help her students own the problem, to rebuild the foundation, to avoid the yelling she desperately wanted to do.

That never would have happened a year ago!  The Young Ms. X brigade in those days was far too confirmed in its negativity and certainty.  They’d look at me with all the perfect wisdom young teachers think they have (Oh! I remember those days!  And I was far more judgmental than they!) and dismiss my advice as unworkable or crazy or maybe with the good kids, like the ones you teach.

We taught the same kids, of course … but that didn’t matter to the Young Ms. X Brigade.  I hope they’re happier Where They Are than Where They Were, and I’m glad that their leaving coincided with (or caused? or resulted from?) the positive changes in the school atmosphere.

It’s funny, too, because Tuesday morning I’d been feeling sick and exhausted and somewhat defeated.  But within a few minutes, the spirit of joyful community had begun to restore me.  It was an imperfect, but excellent day, of course … but that imperfect excellence was just what I needed.  E, who had been tuned out for a while, has been making the most amazing symbolic illustrations of the stories in Lectiō XXXIII … and they’re helping her focus, and they’re helping her learn and remember, and we talked about how her visual-kinesthetic or visual-tactile learning preferences can help all of us.  The small class is so excited by making videos of their Embodied Role Plays that they want me to have a part in the next one – the one where a puella (in this case) and a lūdī magister and a paedagōgus and a paterfamliās have “some sort of interaction.”  We’ll be filming on Thursday; the PSAT is today, so several of us will not be in class in the morning.

It’s amazing how quickly and profoundly things can change – or perhaps I should say, how quickly your perspective can change.  Perhaps the signs of joyful community were there last year, too, but I just couldn’t see them through the lenses of exhaustion and negativity I felt compelled to put on.  Or perhaps the seeds of joyful community were there, but the exhaustion and negativity kept them from sprouting.

When you’re building and sustaining a joyful learning community, it’s important to pay attention to the seeds, to help them sprout and grow, to embrace the positive synergy and be on guard against the negative kind.  Exhaustion and negativity are always a possibility, but if you’re careful, you can avoid them – and if you’re careful and wise, you can use them to help refocus, just as Young Ms. X channeled her understandable anger into a positive framework for change.

I wonder what exciting, positive changes await us today!

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Published in: on October 16, 2013 at 10:22 am  Leave a Comment  

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