On the way to buy a few groceries – and some much-needed food for The Dog – I heard part of this interview with a renowned financial expert. At the end of the year, he suggested, you should sit down, look over your finances, list three things you did well and three areas where you need to improve, and then – this really struck me – choose one in each category to focus on in the upcoming year. Focus on preserving one strength and strengthening one weakness, he said, because if you have too many goals you’ll get overwhelmed and you won’t accomplish any of them.
And that, I realized, is one of the core issues with factory-model thinking. There are always too many goals. I love our Relatively New State Standards for World Languages because they’ve reduced a seemingly endless list to four essential standards and three curriculum strands per proficiency level, but even with a relatively small list like that, it’s possible to get caught up in the checklist mentality or the fear of too much to cover, to focus on the two or three clarifying objectives for each standard and strand rather than on the bigger picture. And yet, when you step back, there are two huge goals supporting all the others: language learners need to be able to use the language (in all three modes of communication), and they need to understand the culture(s) that use the language so they can understand their own culture more deeply. The introduction to that standards document actually makes that pretty clear.
But translating that big-picture clarity into your daily work and practice? That’s harder, especially in schools and districts that are slowly recovering from the factory mindset or still desperately clinging to what we’ve “always” done. Maybe that’s one reason why Ms. X, Ms. X, and Mr. Y were so upset on Monday! I know Mr. Y was feeling behind, and he said he’d been arguing with students for almost an hour before that lunchtime conversation. Ms. X and Ms. X had certainly been updating grades since Progress Reports for the current reporting period go out this week … and there’s nothing like updating grades to make teachers feel frustrated with their “bad, lazy students.” I’ve been grateful, this year, for the mobile app that accompanies the New Student Information System; with it in place, I can easily put in the one or two numbers generated by each student each day, and there’s no need to let things build up, to stare at column after column of numbers, to feel frustration build as you see row upon row of undone work or minimal effort from A, B, or C. But if Ms. X and Ms. X were following their typical pattern, they “keyed grades once a week” and had that unpleasant, frustrating experience.
It’s a lot easier to keep your eyes, mind, and heart on the big picture when you don’t feel caught in a forest of too many goals. But if you spend most of your days in a factory-mindset workplace – and most of your evenings either trying to avoid your workday or consuming factory-model entertainment – it’s hard not to get caught in that forest. I think that’s why B, B, and U have been so unproductive this week: there’s a huge deadline for the school’s Graduation Project this week, and B, B, and U have consistently told me they’re terrified of that. It’s the first time they’ve ever had to manage themselves for an extended period of time, to get things done not when Ms. X tells them to but when the calendar says it’s time, to do something original … for school! Well, it’s not the first time, since they’ve been Latin Family members for a while … but it’s the first time outside of their Latin Family experience, I’m afraid. And B, B, and U are feeling lost, with too many goals and not enough direction … but unlike B, who’s been “sick” this week, they’ve been coming to school, trying to focus on things at least for a moment, realizing – on some level – that they’re compounding problems in other areas.
And that’s an important lesson to learn, too – a lesson that Ms. X, Ms. X, Mr. Y, and all of us need to relearn and remember. Sometimes, when things get crazy and there are too many goals, just showing up is a triumph. In a joyful learning community, you can build supportive structures for times like that, and you can be calm and patient when you need to. But in a factory-world, where coverage is everything and standardization is expected, deviations from that norm are problems, not opportunities. How will we take the learning-community approach, provide the extra time and the extra support and patience, even in places where the clock and the pacing guide still rule?
I wonder what other deeply important lessons I’ll be learning from B, B, U, and the others today!