Taking a Closer Look

Late Thursday afternoon, after the Official E-mail that there’d be no school again today, I looked up from what I was doing and saw a pair of large liquid eyes staring at me accusingly.  The Dog was making it clear, as only a dog can do, that he needed to go outside … right now.  So we bundled ourselves up just a bit, opened the door, and stepped carefully out onto what looked like mostly clear pavement on the front walk and driveway.  And it was … mostly clear.  But there were a few treacherous, icy spots even there, and I could certainly see why the Relevant Powers were concerned for people’s safety.

The Dog is often eager to walk, eager to sniff, eager to explore.  But yesterday afternoon, and again this morning, he was as slow and cautious as a Border Collie mix can be.  I could see that he was taking a closer look at his surroundings before he ventured out onto the icy slush, just as I was.

And taking a closer look often reveals important things, whether you’re carefully walking across an icy spot, teaching in a factory-model classroom, or building a joyful learning community in any setting.  What was up with N on Monday?  Why was she in a particularly unpleasant mood, and why did she think that blame-shifting and ridiculously unreasonable accusations would make things better?  Was she trying to reframe a situation in which she felt inadequate, or at fault, or singled out in some way?  I’m not sure yet, but as I take a closer look (whenever we’re finally back at school!), I’ll be a lot more likely to figure things out (and to figure out how to walk with N through whatever the deeper issues actually are) than if I fell into the act-now, think-later-or-never model of pain-punishment cycles or yelling and labeling.

Speaking of yelling and labeling, I’m intrigued that N asked “Why are you yelling at me?” when I spoke to her at a normal speaking volume, but addressed actions that were disturbing and frustrating lots of people.  Was she feeling guilty and wanting to deflect the guilt?  Was she hoping to provoke actual yelling?

Ms. X and Mr. Y like to say they’re “too busy for that kind of nonsense,” like to threaten “bad, lazy kids” with Discipline Referrals and Powers That Be.  But how often do Ms. X and Mr. Y actually follow through on their threats and promises?  Not often at all; they’re “too busy,” it seems, or sometimes they’re convinced that “They” won’t “actually do anything,” or sometimes they even fear that “They” might “get upset” if too many “bad, lazy students” come their way from Ms. X or Mr. Y.  Nobody takes a closer look, because everybody is “too busy” … and all too often, the result is a vicious, unproductive cycle of mutual frustration, mistrust, and suspicion.  “We’re going to really crack down on This Particular Thing,” a Relevant Power will announce, to the apparent applause of Ms. X and Mr. Y … but then the old patterns reassert themselves, the possibilities for conflict appear, and the easy way grows more tempting with every passing hour.

Building and sustaining a joyful learning community: it’s hard hard, especially when there aren’t many available models of what they look and feel like … or of how they handle conflicts or confusion or external demands or any of the hundreds of things that can come up on an ordinary day with 20, 30, or 150 people sharing a space.  Hard, but also important … and the more joyful learning communities we can form, and the more connections and networks among them we can build, the less difficult it will probably be to form new ones.  On this day of melting ice and snow in These Parts, a day when “normal” life can gradually resume as the temperatures warm, that gives me hope for both the present and the future.  And I wonder what new insights and discoveries await in the days to come!

Published in: on February 14, 2014 at 2:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

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