The larger group in the large Latin I class made an excellent, but imperfect film yesterday, and the smaller group was ready to film … but there’s only one good place to serve as a set, and the larger group was using it. “Oh!” said T, “we could have gone Down There to make ours! Why didn’t we think of that?” And Down There might have worked, but there’s plenty of time for T, B, G, and the others to make their film today or Friday. And there was plenty of time, in the end, for the small Latin I class to make their excellent, but imperfect film, too, and for the upper-level class to watch each other’s films and start reading the next story sequence.
Building … and sustaining. That’s what yesterday was about. But that’s what every day has been about: building and sustaining our knowledge, our skills, our understanding. Building and sustaining linguistic and cultural proficiency. And, of course, building and sustaining the joyful learning community in which that happens. That takes sustained time and effort, but it also makes time for the important stuff.
There’s the same amount of time, of course, in Ms. X and Mr. Y’s classes, but they always have too much to cover, and they always get behind and need to blame somebody. Themselves, often, for not being organized enough. Their “bad, lazy students,” for … being bad and lazy, of course. Powers That Be, for “interruptions” and altered schedules. Students’ families, for “not taking school seriously enough,” or for “letting those kids stay out of school” or “not making them come.” Changes in society, smartphones, tablets … all the things that “distract those bad, lazy kids from my PowerPoint and my cute little activity I found for them to do.” One Ms. X, her voice almost completely lost from laryngitis, was complaining a few weeks ago that she “had to give notes” that day; she could see no possible alternative. And I “didn’t have time” to ask her about the goal of giving those notes, or to see if I could help her find an alternative … and, to be fair, I didn’t want her to use up her limited vocal resources explaining to me why that was impossible or unworkable. That Ms. X has to take her own journey, I think … and if I tried to help, tried to give too much of the wrong sort of direction and guidance, it wouldn’t help at all.
What makes the difference? We were talking about that yesterday afternoon in a short World Language Department meeting. Ms. H, Ms. T, and I are very different people with very different personalities, but we all agree on language proficiency as the goal of what we do, and we’ve all been moving away from Ms. X and Mr. Y’s Tried and True approach (with the PowerPoints and the cute little activities) over the past few years. It’s been a hard journey – and I don’t think I’d realized how hard it had been for them until we had a chance to talk about it yesterday.
That’s probably because I was so focused on the hardness of my own journey! And I know it’s because, in the midst of the struggle, we didn’t want to talk about the pain and the difficulties. But as we’ve all started to find a new rhythm, to build and sustain different approaches, we’re able to be more open, to share with each other more freely. We’re able to build and sustain our own little learning community more successfully. And we want to help That Ms. X and the others … but help is a complicated thing.
Factory-model schools try to standardize the helping process. There are mentoring programs, where young teachers (and struggling teachers) theoretically get assistance from specially trained (or randomly assigned) veterans or instructional coaches. If the programs are flexible and if the young (or struggling) teachers see them as assistance rather than punishment, they can work quite well – but, sadly, many such programs are standardized (because there’s too much to cover and not enough time, of course). There are peer observations like the one That Particular Ms. X received the other day – and Ms. E was really trying to help her, too. But Ms. E, wise veteran teacher that she is, saw individual learners with individual needs, while That Ms. X just saw a bad class who wouldn’t do homework and won’t pay attention. School administrators do observations of various kinds, and they coach and assist as much as they can – but Ms. X and Mr. Y fall into the Us and Them trap all too easily, even when their Local Powers sincerely desire to break down such walls and barriers.
Building … and sustaining. I’ve been learning how to do that in a joyful learning community setting, but I’m not sure how to do it “at scale” in a factory-system. And “scale” is important in factory-thinking … and understandably so, because factory-model systems are all about “scale.” As we prepare for another day of bridging those two very different worlds, the factory school and the learning community, I realize that the challenges of building and sustaining are both necessary and vital for this stage of our journey … and I wonder what new insights and discoveries await us all today!