The #gtchat community on Twitter had one of its occasional Sunday afternoon chats yesterday, and the topic was “What does success look like to you?” We took a deep, refreshing dive into distinctions between intrinsic and extrinsic measures of success; we talked about whether eminence in one’s field is a prerequisite to be considered successful; and we kept coming back to the connections between success and happiness. Sometimes I’m busy with One Thing and Another on Sunday afternoons, but I’d finished One Thing and needed a break before Another when the time rolled around.
As we talked, I kept thinking about my friend Ms. X, the one who was expecting Potentially Bad News from her doctor last week. Yes, the doctor said, you need to go ahead and retire … or you could keep working and possibly do serious damage to your health. I wasn’t sure how she’d be feeling, but when I saw her on Friday, she was … actually, happy isn’t a bad word. Apprehensive? Of course. Concerned about her family and her finances? A bit. Anxious about how difficult it might be for the Relevant Powers to find a replacement? Naturally. But she was happy and at peace in a way I’ve rarely seen her. I think some of it had to do with the fact that she’ll be leaving after a successful year as she defined success.
A Former Power used to wax poetic about how wonderful it is that “you get a fresh start every year” in factory-model education. The flip side of that, of course, is that just when things are really starting to click for a particular teacher and class, it’s time to wind things up and get ready for a new, different year and a new, different group. That was fine with the Former Power, but the more I think about it, the more I see the waste of time, resources, and energy … and the more I see how often the “fresh start” isn’t all that fresh. It’s much more like closing the factory down to retool … which, of course, is exactly what it’s modeled after.
By contrast, the folks at Menlo Innovations have found a non-factory way to get a fresh start every week without all that winding down and winding back up; their programmers work in pairs, and the pairs are reshuffled every week within each project team. I’ve finished my first reading of Richard Sheridan’s book about his company’s approach, and I’m trying to imagine how you could do something similar within the confines of a larger structure (like a factory-model school) with very different priorities. It’s easy to see how you could make a joyful working community inside a free-standing joyful learning community; with joy (and we both define joy in quite similar ways) at the center, everything else is a matter of logistics. And the Menlo approach seems to keep joy at the center of everything from communication to project management, from allocation of time and resources to hiring and professional development. It seems they’ve found a sweet spot where success, happiness, and joy meet regularly.
I don’t need the kind of custom software development they do at the moment, but who knows what the future will hold! And I did need the reaffirmation that success and joy can and should go together.
The various branches of the Latin Family will be working on complex, multifaceted projects this week. The beginning and intermediate groups will be creating puppet-based video products around the stories in Tres Columnae Lectiō XI (for the beginners) and Lectiō XXV (for the intermediate group), and in the process they’ll also be filling in some gaps in the story-lines with stories that just might become “core” readings in the future if they’re good enough. Meanwhile, the advanced groups have been thinking about heroism and the clash between duty and personal desire as they all read Hyginus’ version of the Hercules story along with Lectiōnēs XXXII – XXIV for the Latin III group, XLV – XLVI for the Latin IV’s, and the requisite selections from Aeneid IV and VI and De Bello Gallico VI for the AP-syllabus group. They’ll be designing, as well as creating, their own products to show the common themes in their readings, and I’m excited to see what the future holds for them when they really get started on Tuesday or Wednesday.
“I’m so far behind where I need to be,” Another Ms. X said of her AP group on Friday. “There’s Specific Stuff they have to do, and I have to teach them so much before they can do it.” Ms. X’s syllabus is very different from mine, and her Particular Content Area is very different from a language course. But I can’t help feeling that if Ms. X did a little bit less teaching them so much, she’d feel less rushed and less frantic. Somehow the Latin Family’s AP-syllabus group is a day ahead of the schedule I showed them a few weeks ago, the schedule that we all thought was “crazy” for its ambitious pace at the time. If their current pace continues, they’ll be finished with the first reading of everything on the syllabus well before Spring Break starts Friday afternoon, and we’ve done a lot of additional reading and taken the time we needed to make high-quality Major and Minor Assessment products along the way, too.
And that brings us back to success and happiness and joy. Happiness, I’d say, is a great by-product but a terrible goal to focus on … but success and joy are pretty closely intertwined. As a busy week begins, and as so many competing priorities pull us all in different directions, I hope we’ll hold on to the joy and experience the success. I wonder what other new discoveries and insights await!