Hearing the Stories

Ms. X, Ms. X, and Mr. Y were eating lunch and talking about technology on Tuesday.  It seems Mr. Y’s Special Committee had an Especially Brilliant Idea on Monday.  “With this fancy Google Drive stuff,” someone had said, “maybe we could put Those Forms online, and it would be easier for The Office to keep up with students who Do Bad Things.”  I think they’re envisioning a set of Google Forms that would automatically (or automagically?) track students who were tardy to class, which Ms. X and Mr. Y see as an enormous problem, or violating the school dress code, which is even worse.  “I just want to know, though,” said One Ms. X, “what They are actually going to enforce.  If They would just tell Us what They are actually going to enforce, I would know what to do.”

I haven’t studied the relevant Terms of Service to know whether that’s a permissible use of Google Forms.  But whether it is or not, I have a suspicion it won’t solve the problem.  When T and B were having tardiness issues last fall, not just arriving late but sallying in loudly, disturbing all of us and breaking everyone’s focus, the solution wasn’t an automatic form.  “What’s the problem?” I asked them, “and how can we solve it?”  T and B found a solution pretty quickly as soon as the problem belonged to them.  But after over a decade in factory-model schools, it was pretty clear that no one had ever explained to them why being on time might be important … and they certainly hadn’t figured out why you’d want to come into any setting quietly if you happened to be late.  Ms. X had just yelled, stormed, threatened, and punished, or maybe she had just given up because They didn’t assign after-school detention promptly enough.

Monday and Tuesday were Midterm Exam days, which meant that every computer lab and portable cart was allocated for the online tests prepared by Great Powers Indeed.  Since many of the high-stakes, state-produced tests are now online, it makes sense to practice the process … and it certainly makes sense to collect the data quickly.  Presumably Ms. X, Mr. Y, and others, data in hand, will be able to address their students’ weaknesses more effectively … or at least that’s one hope guiding the Relevant Powers’ decision.  But once again, I have a suspicion it won’t solve the problem.  When I talk with Ms. X and Mr. Y, they either claim ignorance of how to use the data they receive, insist they’re too busy to look at the reports, or maintain (perhaps correctly) that they already know their students’ strengths and weaknesses.  And in the end, “their” scores are always “just fine” or “pretty good” anyway.

Factory-model schools, by their very nature, are too busy to pay attention to individual stories.  Ms. G, whom I mentioned on Friday, has a job because of students who don’t fit the mold, but some folks in her position just try to make them fit in ways that require the minimum possible amount of time and paperwork.  Ms. M’s job is to “provide services” to students at the other end of the “ability spectrum,” but those theoretically differentiated services are standardized for her by Greater Powers Yet, and most of her job involves doing the paperwork.  There would be a lot less paperwork, of course, if everyone would just slow down and hear the stories that surround us all the time.  But there’s not enough time, and too much to cover, and “not my job,” and all the other excuses people in hierarchical organizations use to avoid unwanted contact.

While Ms. X’s classes were taking their online tests or filling out bubble sheets and generating data, I was sitting with Latin Family members, one at a time, for their Major Assessment Individual Responses as groups finished and filmed their Collaborative Responses around us.  In addition to the pronunciation check, the interpretive reading check, and the “language control” or grammatical analysis, we also had time to share some stories.  “It felt like a miracle,” said J, when I told him his Interpretive Reading proficiency level.  “I understand,” I told him, “because it’s getting there, but it isn’t solidly there yet.  But it will be by this time next month.”  D and L were a bit disappointed in their lack of growth in reading proficiency, but I reminded them of all the distractions (including each other’s presence!) that they’d been contending with.  Five or six members of the introductory class realized they need to do more work and focus more, and that realization is probably more powerful than all the labels, threats, and bubble sheets in the world.

When you take time to hear the stories, to make sure the ownership is in the right place, amazing things can happen.  If Ms. X and Mr. Y would just try, I have a suspicion the tardiness and the dress code problems would abate all by themselves.  N, who’s a “bad, lazy kid” according to many of his teachers, called his mom to bring proper shoes all by himself, and I didn’t have to say a word to him.  He fixed the problem because it was his problem.  “Should I do This Slightly Sneaky Thing?” asked L.  “You could,” I said, “but here’s what I think the response would be.  What do you think?”  L decided it would be better not to try the Slightly Sneaky Thing … but it was his decision, not mine.  That’s what can happen in a joyful learning community when the ownership lines are clear and the stories are heard.

But how will Ms. X and Mr. Y come to see that?  Or will they?  And what other insights and discoveries await us all today?

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Published in: on March 26, 2014 at 10:37 am  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Students being responsible for their own actions and the power of owning a problem . . . who’d a thunk it?


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