The faculty holiday celebration is this afternoon, so I spent some time over the past few days gathering the ingredients for the finger sandwiches I “always” bring … and I spent some time this morning with the familiar ritual of assembling them. It got me thinking about what we preserve and what we adapt as the years go by.
The original recipe came from Someone Or Other along the way: they’re the little sandwiches, familiar to many, with a layer of meat (usually ham), a layer of cheese, and a butter-mustard-poppy-seed sauce on top. Over the years, I preserved the essence of the recipe but adapted, first by adding a layer of turkey along with the ham, then by changing from Swiss cheese to Muenster, and along the way by gradually adapting the sauce into its current form. Sometimes I use yeast rolls from the grocery-store bakery; sometimes, like today, I use a sweeter and more tasty roll. And the method of preparation has changed, too, with the passing of years: I now assemble and bake the rolls at home in the morning, put them back into the bags the rolls originally came in, bring them to school, and do the final assembly there. And I’ve promised a colleague who’s Leaving Soon that she can see how I really make the sauce, too.
We’ll be enjoying the sandwiches this afternoon – but long-time faculty members will miss Ms. M’s tiny hot dogs and Ms. Z’s little meatballs. But new traditions arrived to take their place – Ms. C’s sausage-cheese balls, the last-minute deli and vegetable trays that the Usual Suspects are picking up on their way to work. The essence of that holiday gathering has been preserved over the life of the school, but the details have changed as people and circumstances change.
The whole ritual, its essence preserved but its details adapted over the years to work better in the current situation, got me thinking about how learning communities preserve and adapt themselves over time, too. There are things the Latin Family did ten, fifteen, even twenty years ago that we still do today: we learn Latin, we read stories together, we come to know and love and wonder about the characters in those stories, we even use some specific strategies and activities that members from a decade or more ago would recognize. Other things – Those Textbooks, for example, or Those Worksheets or the game with the flash cards or the specific ways we used to illustrate the important actions in a story sequence – changed with the years as students’ needs and preferences changed. And as we moved from That Classroom to The Next One to The Other One to The Current One, details of our daily routines had to change because the space itself was different. And sometimes old traditions, set aside for a time, return in a new form; maybe somebody can call Ms. M or Ms. Z or – better – contribute their own favorite recipe for flavorful, sauce-covered meatballs or hot dogs.
That’s the thing about traditions in a community: when they’re living, growing, and able to change, they bring life and joy to those who embrace them. But when they’re fossilized, unable to adapt, they’re as confining and painful as clothes that no longer fit – or Ms. X’s “perfect” lesson plans, written a decade or more ago, which she faithfully turns in, unchanged, and tries to use again this year.
As builders and sustainers of joyful learning communities, what’s our relationship with the traditions our communities develop? How can we help to preserve and adapt those traditions so that they bring life and joy, not pain or discomfort, to the communities we build? And what new adventures await us all today?