It’s probably just as well that Someone Or Other had forgotten – or gotten too busy, or something – to turn the school’s automatic bell system back on after the long weekend. It led to a few moments of confusion – and I could see Ms. X and Mr. Y down the hall looking angry and frustrated when bells rang at odd intervals first thing in the morning – but for the Latin Family, it gave us a soft start to a hard conversation we needed. K, H, and D have finally started to realize that the conversations they perceive as a whisper are perceived as loud and rude by twenty other people, and so have T, B, G, and U. Had things gone as planned, we would have started with the Sight-Reading Check instead of the reflective questions about what’s gone well, what’s been a struggle, and what (if anything) has been distracting us … but I’m really glad things didn’t go quite as planned. I had put the reflective questions on the back of the Sight-Reading Check papers, so it was a simple thing to say “please start on the side without the story and the questions.”
And it was helpful to hear from everyone about their perceptions. I now know who wants (and needs) physical rather than virtual copies of the Tres Columnae stories, who feels things are going too fast, who needs an extra word of support. It was also good to see what everyone could do, individually, without the technological tools and resources we normally use. Good for me – but much better for those of us who’d been struggling, who’d been feeling as though the work might be in vain. They can see the results now, can feel them … and I remembered that, back in our textbook-using days, Sight-Reading Checks were moments of triumph as long as we didn’t overdo them. With our current mix of personalities, a written one at the half-way point of each grading period seems to work well … and of course, at the end of the quarter, there’s the oral-response Interpretive Reading portion of the Major Assessment.
Somehow, after the short hard conversation about the effects they were having on others, K, T, and the others found it easier to manage themselves, to keep the side-conversations to a minimum, to avoid the distractions that had been plaguing us at the end of last week. Maybe it’s because part of the hard conversation involved me talking about how joyful learning communities and regular classes are different, about how we all know the unwritten rules for a class but the expectations of a learning community are different. Whatever the cause, though, it was a peaceful and productive day.
We repeated the cycle with all three classes, even though the small Latin I class didn’t really “need” the reflective questions. But even there, I got some great information, especially from D, who’s quieter than the others and picks things up just a bit more slowly. I learned that both Z and M, whom Ms. X and Mr. Y would label as “excellent students,” hate many things about the structure of Schools As They Are. And we all had some quiet time to reflect on the wise advice Fabius, lūdī magister, gives Flavius Caeso at the end of the last story in Lectio IX.
It was harder for the upper-level class to focus at first, especially the seniors. They feel time ticking away, a time that parents and Ms. X and advertisers all tell them is “supposed to be” the Best Time of Your Whole Life, but a time that’s full of stress and confusion and change. We talked about distractions and focus a bit, but then we did a slightly more structured version of the Interest-Based Research process we tried out last week. Apparently developing a topic was a rough leap for the seniors, even though they’ve been spending the past few months developing a research topic as part of their Graduation Project … but choosing a topic from a suggested list, and then finding information and reliable links about it, and then sharing those links through an Edmodo post and a really informal presentation to other groups who’d chosen other topics? That worked well. And since all of the topics related to the last Fabula Longa in Lectio XXXVI, to the parallel conversations between the trierarchus and centurio and between Caius Lollius and his new friend Cerealis as their navis actuaria approaches the strange Middle Eastern coast, it was easier, somehow, to focus on the reading process too. Have we finally found a structure that will work for this group as it transitions into more independent reading? Will we be able to sustain the momentum as the end of the semester approaches, as the new (and even more diverse) upper-level class gets going in January?
Building joyful community is hard, and sustaining it isn’t easy. Sometimes you really need to have the hard conversations, even though you may not look forward to them and may seek ways to avoid them. In an atmosphere of mistrust and separation, hard conversations quickly turn to yelling and labeling or worse … but when you’ve done the hard work of building trust and community, hard conversations are both cathartic and restorative.
I wonder what new adventures, new insights, new conversations await us all today!