Prepared, but Flexible

The annual Thanksgiving lunch for the faculty and staff at school is today – and I think this is also the day when the school cafeteria prepares turkey, dressing, and “the trimmings” for students who purchase lunch, too.  But the emphasis is always on the adults on this day.  There’s a special schedule, with an extended lunch period “to give you a chance to relax” (and an accompanying reminder that “students will be with you for a longer period of time” during the lunch class), and everybody signs up to bring a side dish or a dessert.  After a long, emotionally-draining weekend traveling to and from a dear friend’s funeral, I spent a few minutes this morning making the fresh, uncooked cranberry-orange relish I usually bring.

It’s a day when you have to be prepared, but flexible.  In fact, Thanksgiving week in schools – especially when it’s a really short week, as it is this year, and when the end of the reporting period is looming ahead – is a time when preparation and flexibility have to go hand in hand.  Some Kid (no doubt a “bad, lazy one” if you ask Ms. X and Mr. Y) will certainly “take a mini-vacation” by staying home from school today and tomorrow, and lots of students won’t be in school on Tuesday.  “I had to find some busy work for them to do,” One Ms. X moaned a few years ago, “but there’s so much to cover.  But I can’t give notes when there are so many kids out!”

Joyful learning communities aren’t easier than factory-model classrooms, but they’re different … and one difference is obvious at times like this.  We can be flexible because the emphasis isn’t on covering a particular point on a particular day.  Even if we needed to address something new and important for the first time today or Tuesday (which we don’t), there would still be opportunities to practice, deepen our learning, and increase our understanding on other days.    As it is, all three classes are doing the groundwork for short Latin films (live-action, or with puppets, according to decisions they’ll be making today) that we’ll be making after we return from our five-day break.  We’ll be consolidating recent vocabulary, too, with our now-traditional process of individual self-check followed by group construction of the “Reflection and Organizer” … and on Tuesday we’ll be taking a deeper look, as we often do, at English (and other language) derivatives from vocabulary we’ve worked with recently.  And we’ll be analyzing characters, developing scripts, making props, making puppets – no “busy work,” but we’ll be busy and working on tasks that all of us enjoy.  Important tasks that call for a constantly-changing blend of preparation and flexibility.

As the food processor was whirling away a few minutes ago, I thought about preparation and flexibility in that context, too.  The cranberry-orange relish is simplicity itself: you put a bag of fresh cranberries in, cut up and add a seedless orange, process until they’re the consistency you like, and then add some sugar or honey, if you want, to cut the sharpness of the berries.  But you can’t reduce it to a “perfect” recipe: the berries will be different from year to year, and so will the oranges, and some people (like my colleagues today) want some sugar, and others (like me when Thursday rolls around) really don’t.  Some of my Ms. X colleagues only cook from “perfect” recipes – and then they wonder why the dish didn’t turn out exactly the way it appeared on the cover of the book, or in the glossy picture on the website, and they either blame themselves (“I’m a bad cook and I didn’t follow the directions right!”) or the conditions (“I bet it was too cold and dry for it to turn out right!”) or the ingredients and equipment (“I need a new oven!”).

But if you’ve moved past that novice to intermediate level of cooking proficiency, you know that every dish, every time, is slightly different.  There’s a complicated, but barely noticed interplay among cook, ingredients, environment, and equipment, and you have to be prepared, but flexible as you adjust to those changing conditions.  The same thing is true, of course, when you’re building and sustaining joyful learning communities.

I wonder what amazing, delightful, excellent but imperfect things we’ll be cooking up together today!

Published in: on November 25, 2013 at 11:37 am  Leave a Comment  

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