Structured for Freedom

The Google+ Conversation Community is a deep ocean of powerful thoughts, but it’s an ocean I often “don’t have time” to swim in.  So I was glad to have a few moments this morning, and then I was even happier to find John Kellden’s share of a site called Liberating Structures.  Engagement, inclusion, finding the balance between command/control and chaos … it seems Keith and Henri have been working for decades on how an organization can be structured to promote freedom and joy and learning and growth.  I’m really looking forward to exploring the site in depth.

And I’m glad John shared it when he did, because this has been a long, tiring week.  If it hadn’t been for the snow, today would have been the first day of Spring Break … but the snow happened, and Good Friday turned into an “early release” makeup day.  It hasn’t been an unsuccessful week for the Latin Family at all.  Most of us have made significant progress on our Minor Assessment products, and some of us (like C, D, K, and the rest of their group) who usually wait until told have taken ownership and initiative and produced a high-quality product already.

The goal was to finish the “puppet-based video” products by yesterday so we could watch and respond to them today … and for the most part, that’s exactly what happened.  There are one or two groups in the beginning class who needed some more time, and one or two in the intermediate class … but most of us were done, or mostly done, by the end of the day on Thursday.  I’m thinking it’s because the task was structured for freedom: the format of the product was specified, but everyone had a choice of storylines and characters, and they could either summarize an existing Tres Columnae Project story from Lectiō XI (for the beginners) or Lectiōnēs XXIV and XXV (for the intermediates) or, if they preferred, create a new story or an alternate ending.

“Oh!” said T, who prefers to work by herself, “so I can write about the thoughts, words, and feelings of a character in this story and what happens next?”  Yes, T, that would work well … and T, who usually waits for the alternative, individual-response version of Minor Assessments, successfully modified the task all by herself.  So did D, perhaps the quietest person I’ve ever worked with.

Meanwhile, there were phone calls and intercom announcements and emails about “keeping the kids motivated” and “keeping them learning” and “using time well” with all the excitement of the weeks from Spring Break till the end of the year.  And there was a “full house,” as Ms. Q likes to say, in In-School Suspension, mostly for thing like chronic tardiness or dress code violations.  There was a “full house” for after-school detention, too … and when I look at the lists and the faces, I can see that the pain-punishment cycles aren’t achieving their stated purpose at all.  The list is usually about the same each time, which won’t surprise anyone who’s ever worked in a factory-model school.  If the stated purpose of stopping the bad behaviors actually happened, wouldn’t the list be different?  And wouldn’t there be fewer students, not more, as the year went on?

But there are stated purposes, and then there are unstated purposes.  And the unstated, unexamined ones are powerful.  I doubt that Ms. Q has any interest in permanently labeling anyone as “bad and lazy;” in fact, having known Ms. Q for All These Years, I know very well that permanent labels are the opposite of everything she believes in.  And yet when E and J and U and B and the others are (at least from their perspective) “always” getting assigned to spend a day with Ms. Q, what other conclusions besides permanent labels can they draw?  Our thoughtful Local Powers aren’t interested in permanent labels, either, but when they make those assignments, that’s the unintended and unexamined consequence.

And on another level, Those Same Powers send an unintended and unexamined message all the time, just as I do … just as we all do every time we interact wwith anybody.  We intend our words and actions to convey one message, but our tone and body language can communicate something quite different … especially when there’s a pattern of behavior that we fall into.  And we all fall into patterns all the time, and all too often we don’t even notice the patterns.  I haven’t looked, but I have a feeling that the “weekly reminders” for this week in 2014 are awfully similar to the ones from the equivalent week in 2013.  “Just write the bad, lazy ones up and send in the paperwork.  Turn in This Document by This Time because that’s when it’s due.  Remember to keep them motivated and keep them on task.  Oh, by the way, the following Special Things have been scheduled to make staying on task rather difficult.”

I’m not sure how poor Ms. X and Mr. Y have fared this week!  I haven’t seen much of them; they’ve certainly been “too busy” and had “too much to cover,” even more so than usual.  I haven’t heard that much about Lengthy Packets from Latin Family members, though L was bemoaning a particularly long one from One Ms. X yesterday afternoon.  Perhaps they’ve waited till today to hand out the Lengthy Packets … and perhaps they’ll be surprised if some of their “bad, lazy kids” aren’t in school to receive Those Packets.

“I’ve learned,” I said to someone in the upper-level class on Thursday, “that I need to trust the process and get out of the way sometimes.”  But Ms. X and Mr. Y haven’t learned that, or maybe they don’t know how.  Building and sustaining a joyful learning community … that combination of structure and freedom is hard work, but it’s so much easier than managing and motivating, than doing the same-old same-old while expecting different results.  And that’s a hopeful thought for today!

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Published in: on April 18, 2014 at 10:46 am  Leave a Comment  
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