By the time I went to bed on Wednesday night, I was clearly coming down with a case of What’s Going Around: headache, sore throat, sinus pain, lots of sneezing and coughing. But by Thursday morning I was feeling better. The headache and sneezing were gone; the throat was only a little bit sore, and the cough was steadily decreasing. But it still was a day that called for more listening than speaking if I wanted my recovery to continue.
That’s a real problem for Ms. X and Mr. Y when they’re sick, especially so close to the end of the semester. “There’s so much to cover,” they’ll moan in a barely audible whisper, “and I don’t have any choice, I have to give these notes today.” Or perhaps “I wish I could just give those bad, lazy kids a packet to do, but they won’t do it unless we go over the answers.” Or something like that. A self-fulfilling prophecy, because Ms. X and Mr. Y have, consciously or unconsciously, set themselves up as the Source of All Information in their classrooms … and they’ve set their classrooms up such that Information Transfer is the primary goal. Not understanding, which is complex and hard to measure, and which develops at different rates in different people. Not skills – or at least not the kinds of complex, heuristic skills that are still aspirationally labeled as 21st-century skills, a distant future goal for young people who were actually born in that “future” century of ours. Not even knowledge – or at least not the kind that’s deeply retained for the long term. Just information.
I’m not sure what Ms. X and Mr. Y would say if I put it to them that way. I haven’t tried – mostly because it takes a lot of energy and commitment to do the kinds of speaking and listening involved in such a conversation. I’ve been saving my energy and commitment for my students, for this space, and for online conversations with folks who share my passions and interests. Sometimes I’ll plant a seed in a conversation – sometimes without even knowing that I’ve done so till much later. And yet, slowly but surely, changes are happening all around.
“I saw your students practicing,” One Ms. X said yesterday, “and they were really, really good.” We talked about how and why they were creating their own stories and materials, and That Ms. X was excited. “That’s so much better and more interesting than a textbook,” she said. Will Ms. X step boldly or cautiously toward collaborative creation? Has she been doing so for a while, and I’ve just been too busy to notice?
Speaking and listening. I’m glad I took the time for that conversation! And I’m glad I’ve been learning not to just assume, not to think that just because Ms. X used to say and do certain things, she’d always continue on that same path. When you look at the world from a growth mindset perspective, you can see opportunities where a fixed mindset sees nothing at all, or sees only gloom and despair.
I’d been concerned about D, D, B, and their friends, my seniors in the upper-level class. Would they notice the Major Assessment process, and would they engage in it and develop a product, or would they sit sadly, trying to wish the whole thing away as they sometimes do? Then, on Thursday, D asked if they could make a narrated poster instead of a video – and of course the answer was yes, and they started working on their product. And D, who’s been avoiding reading Latin for a while, was busily working on reading our most recent story, while across the room B, B, U, and the others were planning and preparing for theirproduct and B was encouraging U about some Large Thing in one of their other classes.
Speaking and listening. If I took up all the space with my voice, my suggestions, my warnings of what might happen, would there have been any room for those conversations?
On Thursday afternoon, there was an online meeting, by Google Hangout, to prepare us trainers and facilitators for an upcoming face-to-face meeting. While I’m glad that we’re embracing new technological tools, it’s still early in the process and there were a few unfortunate glitches. I’d been asked to send out information about how to fix potential audio problems, and I’d sent out the email – but apparently the folks who really needed the instructions were the same folks who’d deleted the instructions or failed to read them. And then someone, whose microphone was working all too well, didn’t realize that if there was background noise on their end, we’d all be able to hear it on our end – so we all got to listen to a lengthy announcement from some school’s Powers That Be about testing procedures for next week. And for a while, that announcement was so loud that listening and speaking on our end was impossible.
It strikes me, after some quiet time away from that noise and confusion, that the loud background announcement – and Ms. X or Mr. Y’s inability or unwillingness to mute the microphone – would make an excellent metaphor for the kinds of communication that often happen in factory-model institutions. Everybody means really well, but there are so many messages, all arriving at the same time or in such close succession. Sometimes the signal-to-noise ratio is a problem, and sometimes the signals themselves turn into noise – at least from the hearer’s perspective – because there are too many at once. A joyful learning community can seek clarity because people are comfortable with each other, comfortable enough to say “Wait! I didn’t hear you! There was too much else going on!”
What will we do, today and in the days to come, to build that kind of comfort, that kind of speaking and listening, in our physical and virtual spaces?