Working … With, In, On, and For

“It’s important,” say the experts who produce guidebooks for new business owners, “to work on your business, not just in it.  And remember, when you own a business, you’re working for (and with) a whole bunch of people!”  I’ve read that advice many times, tried to apply it in my own situation, learned and re-learned the Wisdom over and over again.  Work that’s meaningful and important, the kind of work that you do when you’re pursuing your calling or Element, can be exhausting and painful at times.  But it also brings deep joy, deep meaning, lasting learning.  As the Latin Family has been busy working together this week, working in and on the systems we developed and working for and with the greater goal of joyful learning community, I’ve been thinking a lot about work and its implications.

I want to thank Ms. X for getting me started.  In that meeting on Monday afternoon, when we were talking about unsuccessful students, she “just happened” to share part of her own story.  Ms. X’s father had left school fairly early because he “had to work” to support his family, and so had her mother.  So neither of them could help Ms. X or her siblings with school issues.  “But that was OK,” said Ms. X, “because I knew it was my job to get the education I needed.  Why don’t these kids understand that?  Why do they need a reward for doing what they’re supposed to do anyway?”

For Ms. X, the lines of work and ownership are clear.  Work is what you do, and you do it because you’re supposed to … because it’s the right thing to do, and without it, you just won’t be successful.  Ms. X is also busy, and she really does have “too much to do” and “too much to cover” in her crowded, full curriculum.  So Ms. X hasn’t ever had time to hear, contemplate, or maybe even imagine other definitions of work and ownership.

Mr. Y has a system, a well-designed and effective one, to help his young students take ownership of their work and their responsibilities.  He tracks the work his students are required to do, and they get a weekly update … with extra copies of any written work that they haven’t completed on time.  “Who are your parents mad at,” he’ll ask less-successful students at the end of a reporting period, “me or you?  And what are you going to do about it next quarter?”

Within the factory-school mindset, Ms. X and Mr. Y are working hard to help their students take ownership and responsibility, to do the work and gain the success that, according to the factory-paradigm, is just around the corner if only you work hard enough.  And I applaud their work … and their work ethic, too.

But then I think about the sage advice from those business consultants: work on the system, not just in it, and remember all the people and things you’re working for and working with.  Ms. X works hard in the system, but she’s too busy with that work to step back and look at the system itself.  “Those bad, lazy kids!” she frets.  “They won’t even do the ten homework problems I assigned!”  Ms. X doesn’t have time to find out why; she just yells and labels, or gives a zero, and moves on with her crowded curriculum.  Besides, she’s sure she already knows why the “bad, lazy ones” don’t “do my work.”  Video games must be the problem, along with “bad parents” and the Internet and violent shows on TV.

“Mr. S,” K said to me the other day, “I need to study more because I’m not doing as well as I should.”  K is a hard-core gamer, but K is taking ownership of a problem he’s identified for himself, and he’s thinking about the work he needs to do to solve the problem.  K’s numeric grade is still pretty good, but K isn’t satisfied … and K’s dissatisfaction came from inside, from observing his own performance on the Major Assessment process and thinking about the trend lines.  I wonder what Ms. X would have said if she’d overheard my conversation with K!

“We need to get this done today,” said N … yes, N said that!  And N was worried about how her Major Assessment would go, too.  N and her friends are finding a new seriousness about their work as they see for themselves the connections between effort and results.  “Be quiet, everybody, we need to hear this!” one of them said recently … a person who, even a week or so ago, might not have made that connection.

One of the great things about a joyful learning community, I realized, is that everybody does work on it as well as in it.  If there’s a problem, and you figure it out, and you try a solution, and refine and retry it, after a while you’ll get pretty good at working on as well as working in.  And of course a learning community requires working with others … not the kind of “group work” that Ms. X decries because “the bad, lazy ones just sit and copy while the good ones do the work,”  but various, shifting forms of authentic collaboration.  What are you working for?  And who are you working for?  Yourself, your goals, the community itself … lots of self-selected bosses and goals, just like the new business owner targeted by that sage advice.

It’s amazing what you can realize when there’s space and time and inspiration!  So I want to thank Ms. X and Mr. Y for the inspiration, and the Latin Family for the space and time as we share the work of learning and building community together.  I wonder what other new insights and discoveries await us all today!

Published in: on March 27, 2014 at 10:39 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thanks for an outstanding blog post! As a middle school building principal that sometimes hears, sees, and feels the same things mentioned in your post it is SO important to keep in mind what we are on and in. A joyful work place…..LOVE that concept too!

    • Thank you so much! It sounds like you are doing great work with your teachers, students, and families, in and on your school, and for the greater good of your community.

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