If there was such a thing as steady progress, I’m not sure you would have seen evidence of it on the “Tuesday that felt like a Monday” that was yesterday. But if you’d been looking for unsteady progress, for small positive developments and seeds that might sprout later, there were interesting developments. This is the time of year when I often rearrange student groups in larger classes, and the big Latin I class really seemed to need some readjustments. B, T, and the others might get the “bad and lazy” label from Ms. X, or the “easily distracted” one or the one about “not working up to potential.” But when I look at them and interact with them, I see young people who are so terribly used to external management and tightly specified processes that they don’t know what to do without such structures. So, while Ms. X or Mr. Y might have “rearranged my seating chart” without warning, I had good reasons not to spring the change on them, and I didn’t want it to feel like my thing rather than our thing. I woke up early Tuesday morning to write a new “Choose the Word” assignment for them and to figure out the details of how and when we’d move into our new, possibly temporary, arrangement.
And then it came to me – a structure that Latin Family members from a decade or more ago would recognize instantly, but one I hadn’t used in several years. Back then, whenever we needed temporary groups, we’d use the Corners structure: different areas in the room stand for different options, and you go to the one that best represents you. Then it’s simple enough to make groups from folks who chose the same option or, if you prefer, from those who chose different options. So today, different sections of the classroom represented different Tres Columnae Project characters – Lucius, Caius, Cnaeus, Cnaeus’ sisters, or Lucius’ sisters. And within fifteen minutes or so, there were workable but very different groups arranged in workable but very different parts of the classroom – and K, who’d been tuning out for a while, was focused again, and B and T, who’d been distracted by All Kinds of Stuff, were able to focus again even though some of the Stuff was unresolved and even though they’re still sitting and working together.
Change isn’t always easy, but sometimes it’s important. Sometimes it just happens, like the amazing proficiency breakthrough for B and U. Sometimes you have to get it started, like the Corners activity Tuesday morning. And sometimes, when it starts, you just need to get out of the way.
Apparently the Major Powers did conduct their visitation Tuesday morning, though no one visited the Latin Family. One class was shortened and the next one lengthened to accommodate their schedule – and, to be fair, to give back some of the time that had been lost to testing and special programs and other stuff in that mid-morning class. I’m not sure if anyone reminded the students who don’t have early-morning classes, but apparently no one reminded That One Ms. X who works part-time. Her students were standing mournfully outside her door, and I thought I might have to invite them in for a while as I had That Other Group a few days ago. But just as I was about to do so, That Ms. X arrived. “Did They send an email about this?” she asked angrily. No, I told her, but it had been on the calendar for a while. “They really need to remind Us about things like this!” she fussed and fretted – and I understand her frustration, and I don’t blame or condemn her, because That Ms. X is a big believer in reminders. She reminds her students about The Test, and then she reminds them about What’s On The Test, and sometimes she even reminds them that they needed to study, but didn’t. She’s a good-hearted person, and she wants her students to get good grades and learn the material, and they generally do. And sometimes That Ms. X surprises everyone with innovations and openness to change.
In a factory setting, steady progress is the dream – but even there, I’m not sure it’s really possible. The assembly line keeps going, and the progress has to be steady, in an actual factory – but even in a school that embraces the factory mindset, steady progress is more of an aspirational goal than a daily reality. Despite what the lesson plans and pacing guides may say, A will grasp things quicker (or more slowly) than B, or This Class will get shortened for a Special Program, or something outside – a world event, a local issue, the fight that D’s parents had last night – will affect the inside school-world.
In a joyful learning community, things that seem like unwelcome interruptions in a teaching factory can take their proper place and become teachable – or perhaps we should say learnable – moments for everyone. And you can adopt the learning community mindset anywhere, though some environments are more hostile – and some more welcoming – than others. As our presenter pointed out Monday afternoon, “no one can make you do anything” … and even though Ms. X and Mr. Y grumbled briefly, I think we all acknowledged that profound truth, at least for a moment. Like any huge shift in understanding, it will take time, and the progress won’t always be steady. But I feel more hopeful about change within than I did a year or two ago, and oddly enough, that hope also makes me feel more hopeful about change on the outside.
I wonder what fascinating changes and discoveries, what unsteady progress we’ll witness today!