I had a rare face-to-face meeting Thursday afternoon in my role as “Technology Mentor,” which might mean “the person who helps other faculty members with tech-related issues and problems” (as I often need to do) but actually means “the person who troubleshoots and trains folks to use the Student Information System.” A decade or more ago, when the now-Former Student Information System was the Brand New, Shiny Student Information System, a wise Power found some money to develop that role for one faculty member at each school. The money waxed and waned over the years, but the role has remained … and it’s an important one, because the Former Student Information System was new and complex and the New One – which is apparently causing all sorts of issues for nearby school districts that don’t have direct, front-line support for teachers in each school – is new and different.
Over the years, our ranks have changed as folks retired or moved on and new “Technology Mentors” were named. But a few of us “old timers” and “original mentors” still remain. It was good to see each other and to welcome the new faces physically as well as virtually. And it was good to hear about problems and issues – and potential solutions – that have been happening outside the worn, but elegant-looking brick walls where much of my energy and attention is focused most days.
Planning the work is important, and we did a lot of that Thursday afternoon. I’d also spent some time planning and preparing for classes today, of course – and making a few changes and adaptations to my original plans to accommodate the Big Field Trip today and the slightly slower pace that each class needed this week. But can you separate planning the work from working the plan? Should you try to separate them?
The simplest factory-paradigm answer is obvious: Of course you should! Planning is for managers, and doing is for workers. Of course it was never really that simple – and of course no one has ever been sure whether teachers in factory-schools are production workers or front-line managers. I think that’s why Ms. X and Mr. Y “have trouble” writing lesson plans sometimes, and why scripted curricula and the like are so popular in “troubled” schools and districts. If the plan is provided, all you have to do is work the plan … and if it doesn’t work, then it’s a simple matter to assess blame and move on.
But in a learning community, or in any post-factory-paradigm working environment, the answer is less obvious. Plans are different in a rapidly changing world: they’re still important, but you use them in a more flexible, less rigid way, and you develop them with, not for. If there’s a whole-school learning community, everybody gets involved somehow; if there’s a classroom-level community, the teacher probably still writes the official plan (as I plan to do this afternoon for the week to come), but the personalities, interests, and needs of the learners find their expression in both the plan and the execution of it. Last week, it was clear that five or six of us in each of the larger classes needed to refocus and think about effects of what we were doing, and that we needed another five or six to remember that, in a community setting, what might seem like it’s just distracting me can actually be a big problem for somebody else. So, both in planning the work and, in the moment, in working the plan, I paid attention to times and places when those conversations could happen. And B and U were less distracting and distracted, and another B’s dad called to make sure we were on the same page about technological distractions that B wasn’t managing well. And L’s mom emailed to make sure his story about the unexpectedly low grade was true, and – on the other end of things – N, J, and C took a look at an old set of AP Latin questions and decided that, yes, they will be ready to try the AP Exam this spring.
Planning the work and working the plan – they’re both important, whether you work in a factory-world, in a network, on a farm, or in a community. But how and why you plan and work will necessarily change in different settings. And if you work to build and sustain joyful learning communities, you have to find ways to involve everybody in the work, the plan, and the adjustments … and you have to find the right forms of involvement in the moment, and you have to remember those forms will constantly change.
I wonder what changes and discoveries we’ll make today!