On Sunday afternoon, as I was finishing my last few preparations for the upcoming day and week, I found an Edmodo message from B. He’d finally partly done part of an assignment he’d ignored sometime back in October, and he hoped it might help his grade. Unfortunately – despite a conversation we had back then, back when he made extravagant promises to himself and to me that things would change, that his focus and effort would improve – B continued his pattern of half-involvement in the days, weeks, and months that followed. Like so many students (and colleagues, too) over the years, B looks to others to provide the timeline, the pace, and the rhythm of his life in schools and classrooms. Judging by conversations we’ve had about other aspects of his life, it seems B looks to others for timelines, pace, and rhythm all the time. I wonder how long it will take, and how many painful experiences life will hold, before this talented young musician finds his own rhythm. And I look at U, and B, and C, and so many others, and I wonder why they haven’t found their rhythm yet, either, and what it will take for them to discover it.
E, by contrast, has her own timeline, pace, and rhythm … but it took me a long time to understand it. Now I know E does her best work under self-imposed deadline pressure. She’ll let a lot of things build up, then take a weekend – or a 5-day break like the one just ended – and return with both physical and virtual piles of excellent work. She arrived on Monday with a booklet of illustrations for every Tres Columnae Project story she hadn’t read “on time” in November; she was mostly done with the script for her group’s Major Assessment film; and she sent me several virtual products along with the physical ones. E’s timeline, pace, and rhythm are different from mine, but they work for her – and she knows they work for her, knows the kinds of work that would suit her preferred working rhythms.
I’m not worried about E. She’ll be fine – more than fine.
But I wonder about Ms. X and Mr. Y. Do they, like B and the others, look to an external source of rhythm, pace, and timelines? At lunch on Monday, Mr. Y was astonished; he’d looked at the calendar, it seems, and noticed that there’s not that much time left in the first semester. And, of course, there’s a lot to cover and not much time, so Mr. Y wants his students to get serious and stop playing around, to copy those notes and “do” those homework assignments. He was surprised that I wasn’t surprised, and he and Another Mr. Y said something about “being really organized.” No, I said, I just know that there are particular targets I’d like us to reach at particular times … and it’s easier, too, in a language course, where the focus is on skills and understandings rather than knowledge. Now, Mr. Y teaches a Subject Area that ought to be focused on skills and understandings … but I’m not sure if The Textbook and The Curriculum Guide make that clear to him, or if he thinks taking the notes and doing the worksheets will magically build skills and understandings. Let’s be honest: I spent a long time thinking that task compliance could build understanding if only the tasks were well-designed. That’s what factory-model schools were designed for.
At the end of a brief meeting Monday afternoon, One Ms. X was muttering angrily about her bad, lazy students to Another Ms. X, whom she’d invited to visit her class earlier in the day. “See what I mean?” she asked. “They’re terrible, and they won’t do the work, and they don’t understand how those zeroes affect their grades!” The Other Ms. X had some good suggestions for her, but One Ms. X wasn’t ready to hear them. “Z just needs to do This One Thing, and he’ll be fine … and what if you tried Doing That?” the Other Ms. X suggested kindly. But One Ms. X is stuck in her rhythm – and even though she knows it isn’t working, she’s not sure what to do or how to change it. Give notes, hand out worksheets, assign homework, go over it the next day – that’s what she was taught and how she was taught, and it’s “supposed to” work. It just is!
But when it doesn’t – and, more and more, it just doesn’t – what are Ms. X and Mr. Y to do? Powers That Be send them gentle (and not-so-gentle) reminders about Important Deadlines and pacing, about turning stuff in when the stuff needs to be turned in … but Ms. X and Mr. Y lose the reminders, delete the emails, “forget” to look at the calendars. Despite the years they’ve spent in Schools As They Are, sometimes Ms. X and Mr. Y seem to have no sense of the timelines, pace, and rhythms of a school year. Is that part of the reason why so many of our shared students seem confused?
A joyful learning community develops rhythms of its own, and those rhythms aren’t necessarily at odds with larger factory-systems that surround a small learning community. But the work is harder, or at least different, when members don’t have a sense of those larger rhythms … or of their own internal needs for pace and timelines.
I wonder what new rhythms – and what other new insights – await us all today!