It’s the first day of a new reporting period, the half-way point for fall-semester courses. As I get ready to publish this post, lots of students are hoping for a fresh start, a new beginning, a chance to leave behind the mistakes of the past and refocus on goals they’d set for themselves back when the school year was new and everything seemed possible. Others, their worst fears and sad expectations confirmed, are dreading another day of the same-old-same-old, of incomprehensible explanations and random-seeming directions, of somebody yelling and labeling or scolding and fretting. Meanwhile, Ms. X, Mr. Y, and I just received a day of staff development and a partial release of Those All-Important Scores from last year. Depending on Those Scores, some are gloating, some are fretting, and some (I’m told) were crying Monday afternoon. To add to the stress and confusion, a Series of Powers have scheduled an official, announced visitation for today.
But Ms. X and Mr. Y were in meetings all day, and there wasn’t time to get the room ready. And there were some yucky, stressful things last week, and they had to get everything graded and key in those grade at some point.
It’s good, I think, that our afternoon session featured a kindly, veteran teacher and administrator who took the time to know her audience and to tailor her presentation about Applied Control Theory to folks who weren’t feeling much control. Unfortunately, the three-hour session was just long enough to explore the theoretical background, but not quite enough to get into practical application. She modeled lots of strategies, and she pointed out what she was doing – but will Ms. X and Mr. Y, the ones who are still quick to blame Them or Powers That Be or bad, lazy kids or Those Parents, be able to make the leap? Yes, the techniques are there in The Book – and yes, Ms. X and Mr. Y read the book, because They told Us to and Ms. X and Mr. Y like to do what they’re told. But taking ownership of the concepts and strategies, embracing the idea that you can only control yourself? That’s a huge, scary step, and I’m not sure how many of us are ready to take it.
We’ll see in the next few days and weeks. We’ll see if the excellent start of this year continues, or if pressure and fear and the lure of we always did it that way drag us all back into safe, complacent factory-thinking.
Responding to yesterday’s post on Google+, Brendan challenged me by saying
I’ve noticed that you’ve focused a lot on your classes, students and colleagues, and in general, the world of school, over the past few months. Of course, since returning, that’s been your stated intention — to focus on that world, and do the work you see as important there, in particularhelping your struggling students and helping.your colleagues embrace change.
In contrast, over the summer, you had quite a bit of focus on the world outside, wondering and exploring what might be possible there. That represents a side of you that, perhaps, you’ve been suppressing.
And, perhaps, some of your resistance to publishing and publicizing your students’ work follows from a mental dissociation, or compartmentalization, between those two worlds.
Maybe, your focus on changes in struggling students and colleagues follows from your identification of those areas being the most inneed of your efforts. Changes in colleagues, in particular, represent signs of life in the factory, while helping your struggling students experience success helps justify all of your participation in a world which, at times, you’ve found yourself questioning and looking beyond.
Do those sound like plausible explanations?
All of that is important work, but so is helping your students connect with the world beyond the walls of school. Factory model thinking tells people that grades and diplomas are the way one “measures progress” and “connects with the world,” but clearly there’s aconnection error between that kind of thinking and the world of life beyond school, at least for many students.
“Life outside the factory” is the world those students will find themselves thrust into, diploma and degree in hand (or not), and very often, wondering what to do, and how to take next steps, after following the rules for all those years (or not.)
Celebrating success within a learning community is certainly important. *Doing work* certainly has its place. Hanging work on the walls of a school is, within that world, an innovation. But publishing and publicizing work online has the potential to be more than hanging work on a virtual refrigerator. It has the potential to be a gateway to what many students need most… learning how to connect and engage with the world outside of school.
But that does raise the question of what TC is, and what it might be, in the world at large. Is it meant to be a virtual school wall, and a sort of untextbook… or a thriving online learning community?
That’s a whole context that, perhaps, you’ve set aside as you’ve focused on your work within school itself. Maybe it’s time to bridge those two worlds, in your mind, as well as in the further development of TC?
(And as I write this, I’m struggling, myself, with similar questions… how to publish and publicize my work, what it will be in the world, and how to bridge where I’m at, with where I’m going to next.)
And Brendan, you’re right – I’ve been focusing on the micro-level for the past few months for a whole bunch of reasons. Macro-level change, while important, isn’t happening at the pace I’d hoped this summer – but micro-level change is. I’ve deliberately changed my focus from what’s not happening yet to what’s happening all around me, partly to avoid pain and frustration but partly to refocus on the good old Circle of Influence. At the same time, there’s a danger for me, too, of falling into factory-model complacency – of thinking that posting stuff on walls is sufficiently innovative, of forgetting and obscuring the bigger picture, of doing the wrong job, but doing it really well.
We talked a lot about balance Monday afternoon, about how people choose behaviors to try to bring the outer world into alignment with their inner world of beliefs and paradigms. There are obvious implications for me and for colleagues as well as for students. But which threads do we take up, and when, and how do we weave them into the overall tapestry? Important questions for everyone, but even more critical for a joyful learning community as it starts back up and refocuses its attention on the meaningful things it’s building together.
I wonder what new discoveries await us all today!