Keeping People Informed

“You mean there’s no school on Monday?” someone (I think it was V) asked after a reminder-announcement Thursday morning.  The rest of the large Latin I class looked at him, half-amazed that he hadn’t kept up with the calendar.  It’s a three-day weekend for students, but their teachers and administrators will be busy with a series of meetings.  I’m leading the “curriculum-focused session” for the Latin teachers in the district Monday morning, and then there’s a school-wide session with one of the authors of this book which, theoretically, even Ms. X and Mr. Y will have read by Monday.

One Ms. X had finished it a week early, it seems, because she got confused about dates of things.  There’s a beautiful, well-organized, frequently updated Google Calendar where she could look … but I think That Ms. X, who’s been teaching for Quite A While, expects random directives rather than meaningful organization from the Powers That Be in her world.  Random directives – or directives that seem random because they’re presented by themselves, with no explanation and no context – are a hallmark of old-style factory management, of course, and That Ms. X went to school and taught for A While in a world where that kind of management was expected and embraced.  She was a good little student (a very good one, in fact) who became a good little worker (a very good one, really) … and now, all of a sudden, the rules seem to be changing.  Being good and little is no longer adequate – but no one quite knows what’s replacing that old, familiar model.

No wonder V, Ms. X, Mr. Y, and lots of others are confused!  I’m often confused, too.  No wonder students, parents, and teachers all complain about not being informed even when, from the perspective of Powers That Be, they’re more informed than they’ve ever been before.  “Can you believe,” a Power recently complained, “that This One Parent told me her daughter’s teacher at Some Other School tells students their grades every other day?  And now This One Parent thinks all of her child’s teachers here should do that, too.”  Fortunately for the teachers of This One Parent’s child, the Power In Question had informed the parent that her expectations were just a bit unreasonable – but that, when the New Student Information System’s parent-access portion comes online before too long, she’ll be able to check on her children’s grades as often as she wants to.

The conversations with V, Ms. X, and the Power have me thinking once again about that word informed, and about the stark differences between raw information (or what you might call data if it’s numerically presented) and meaning or knowledge or understanding.  We live in a world where the raw information is simply overwhelming – I couldn’t remember which recent blog post had included the story of Ms. X, the book, and the incorrect date, so I did a very restricted Google search (“book”) and still got over 600 results.  A few years ago, I would have paged back through my (paper) journal, which nobody read but me, or maybe the calendar on my beautiful Palm Tungsten E (which, with some difficulty, could be synced to Lotus Organizer on The Computer), to see if I’d made a note about the conversation … and if not, I would have simply noted “a few days ago” in the journal or the calendar and moved on.  But today, when the information is so easily available, it seems somehow odd or wrong not to provide it.  Hence the Google search this morning; hence, no doubt, the desire of the teacher at That Other School to do such frequent grade updates; hence that pervasive feeling of drowning in information that all of us – even V, Ms. X, Mr. Y, the Power, and That One Parent – experience over and over again.

We talked about it briefly on Monday evening at Book Group, too, as we discussed the end of Chapter 4 of Thomas Merton’s No Man Is an Island.  Merton, writing decades before the age of drowning in information, builds a lengthy section of the chapter on a distinction between right intentions and simple intentions, a distinction he says he found “somewhere” in the works of Johannes Tauler.  A quick Google search told us everything we needed to know about Tauler … but we all found ourselves frustrated that Merton hadn’t said where, in which book, Tauler had made this distinction.

Does it matter that much?  Probably not.  But it bothered us – because we live on one side of the drowning in information divide, and Merton lived on the other.  It wouldn’t occur to us not to cite the book, edition, page number, or whatever other organizing principle one uses in citing Tauler … but it wouldn’t have occurred to Merton that anyone would want it cited.

Perhaps that’s why Ms. X’s Old Principals, the ones who taught her to expect random directives and give unquestioning (but complaining) obedience, didn’t bother to give reasons for those directives and orders.  They lived in a world where information was limited, where the concept of a needs-to-know basis was sufficient to quiet any impertinent or undesirable requests for excessive information.  Ms. X lived her childhood and young adult years in that kind of world, and I suppose I did, too – but we don’t live in that world anymore.  When the information is everywhere, all the time, teachers and learners and Powers and parents and everybody else all have different roles and expectations … but we often don’t take the time to keep people informed of the changes, to have conversations about those roles and expectations, to figure out what’s changed and what hasn’t.

Those are difficult, even impossible, conversations to have in a factory; they’re still difficult, but even more vital, in a joyful learning community.  Moving beyond the what to the how and the why – making sure there’s time and space to sit with the questions and question the answers – those are vital roles for all of us builders and sustainers of learning communities.

I wonder what new questions and answers await us today!

Published in: on October 25, 2013 at 10:45 am  Leave a Comment  

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