The worst of the winter storm has left These Parts, it seems, but roads are still icy and treacherous and the Winter Storm Warning remains in effect until evening. One forecast was calling for bands of rain and snow, while a meteorologist quoted on the Local Paper’s website said another inch or so of snow might fall before it’s all over. Schools and businesses are closed, and I think I’ve seen exactly one vehicle go down Our Street in the past two days. With plenty of food around for humans and animals, and with power and heat the whole time, it’s been a peaceful, restful time, especially for me and The Dog. Not so peaceful, of course, for friends who work at the Local Hospital, who spent hours navigating icy roads because hospitals can’t just shut down and wait for storms to pass. And not so peaceful, I’m sure, for friends and former students who now work as firefighters, sheriff’s deputies, and paramedics, either.
You can’t plan far in advance for a big winter storm like this one, but you can prepare for it once you know it’s on the way … and there are some preparations you can do in advance, just in case. It makes sense to keep some shelf-stable food around if you can, just in case there’s a power outage, and it’s not a bad idea to make sure there’s gas (and a blanket or two, just in case) in the car. When the storm is actually approaching, it’s great if you can avoid the mad rush to the store for bread, milk, and All Those Other Things … but if you can’t avoid that rush, there’s an odd form of temporary community that can develop in those long, slow-moving lines. And of course, once the storm arrives, there’s waiting. Waiting for it to pass, waiting for roads to be passable again. Waiting for the normal routine of life to resume.
It struck me this morning that teaching and learning also require planning, preparing, and waiting, whether you’re in a factory-model school or a joyful learning community setting. The specific forms of planning and preparing are different, of course. In factory-schools, plans exist to be turned in to Greater Powers, who check them for compliance with mandates and file them away for future reference because that’s what you do with plans in a factory-setting. Ms. X turns her lesson plans in to her Local Powers, and they turn in school-level plans, budgets, and reports to Greater Powers, who in turn send plans and reports to Greater Powers Yet at the state and federal levels. But even in a joyful learning community, where learning plans might be very informal and jointly developed by learner and teacher, there’s still planning … and those plans, while less formal and less likely to be checked for compliance, are actually more important than Ms. X’s lesson plans or Dr. Z’s Required Report because there’s purpose and meaning behind them. “You can’t teach well without a good lesson plan,” a Relevant Power often says … and that’s true, but Ms. X and Mr. Y can, in fact, just follow the textbook and assign some problems and read the chapter out loud, and on a bad day, or a busy day, or a crazy day when they’re feeling behind and unprepared, that’s what they’re likely to do because, after all, it’s what their teachers and their teachers’ teachers “always” did Back In The Day.
Preparing follows planning, of course; it’s the set of actions and steps you take to try to bring your plan to fruition. In a factory-school, that means copying those worksheets and loading (or making) the PowerPoint, and sometimes it means getting the glitter and glue together for the “cute little activity” Ms. X found on the Internet. In a joyful learning community, there’s a lot more to preparing, of course, since the learning activities themselves are jointly developed by teachers and learners. You might be working together to find an expert or make something amazing, or you might be developing ways to make something necessary feel and be pleasant, even joyful. But in all kinds of environments, preparing is important.
And then there’s waiting. Factory-model schools are all about hurry up and wait … but even in a factory-model school that’s hurrying, a classroom filled with frantic energy as Ms. X “covers the curriculum” with all her might, you still have to wait for understanding to develop. And understanding develops on its own pace, no matter what That Pacing Guide or the Teacher’s Edition might say. Waiting is easier in a joyful learning community because everyone understands that different people take different amounts of time and different paths to the destination … but it still isn’t easy. Like friends of mine trapped in their houses with small, squirmy children for the past few days, waiting for the storm to pass and the roads to be safe for travel again, you can get a bit stir-crazy when you wait for a learning breakthrough.
Maybe the most important thing about planning, preparing, and waiting isn’t any of those three things after all! Maybe it’s mindfulness, awareness of the different roles of planning, preparing, and waiting in your particular circumstances. As we work to build and sustain joyful learning communities, or to help factory-model environments transform themselves into something different, that’s important to remember whether you’re acting or waiting to act.
I wonder what other new insights await us all in the days to come!