Does It Really Start With WHO?

I’ve been thinking about questions of who as tactical and team related.  But asking who can also mean asking “Who am I?”

That’s the beginning of philosophy, some say … and it’s a great place to begin when you’re doing something new and important.  Satia’s comment got me thinking about that:

On a smaller scale, this is speaking to me. Knowing the why/what/how is an essential foundation for anything, really. I’ve been down physically and mentally lately. I lost my why and what. I’m trying to find them again.

While there may be an abstract, general-purpose why, what, or howlosing those doesn’t leave you exhausted and drained.  Losing my why and what does; if you’ve ever been there, or been in a situation where your why and what don’t fit The Organization’s why and what, you understand that from the inside.  But how do I know my why and what?  I have to know myself … and since it’s pretty clear that people can change over time, that’s not something I can do once, then check off my list for all time.

And if my who changes, or adapts, or becomes more like myself over time, my why and what will probably change, too.

The how, when, and where?  They’re definitely going to change, at least for those of us who live and work in the rapidly-changing 21st-century world.  But random change, or change for the sake of change, will leave us feeling misaligned and miserable.  After a few changes like that, our how, when, and where can be really disconnected from our why and what.

I’ve seen that from the inside over the past few years, but it’s only now that I can put it into words.  Thank you, Dr. Richard Elmore and edX, for the language of the modes or theories of learning!  When I started working at That Particular School over a decade ago, it was a hierarchical collective place … and that was fine with me, because that fit with my who, why, and what at the time.  There was a strong, shared vision, developed by a remarkable leader and reinforced by a set of shared practices.  When she moved on to Bigger Things, her manager-successors preserved many of the practices, but I’m not sure that they (or the Greater Powers Yet who selected them) really understood the why or the what behind the how, the vision and goals behind the practices.  Slowly but surely, the emphasis moved to the practices themselves … and slowly but surely, the management style reverted to the hierarchical individual norm for schools in These Parts.  Meanwhile, I was slowly, but surely moving toward the distributed side of Dr. Elmore’s framework … but I didn’t have words to express how very different my trajectory was from that of the organization.

Instead, I was physically and mentally exhausted, like Satia … and emotionally and spiritually drained, too.  I wonder what would have happened if The School had stayed on its original hierarchical collective path, though.  Would That One Group have ever said they found textbooks “flat and dead,” or would we still be happily using those Same Old Textbooks?  Would I have still felt loyalty to the original why, what, and how if it were still there … and would that loyalty have led my own why, what, and how in a different direction?

Of course those are impossible questions to answer!  But for a couple of years Back Then, I really did work in a joyful learning community where people really did make meaningful things together … and as I think about the work of building such communities, it’s important for me to remember that.  A distributed collective learning community, the kind that we’ve started to form around building the Tres Columnae Project, is different in important ways from a hierarchical collective organization like The School That Was, of course. But we have to be thoughtful and deliberate about establishing and communicating the why and the what, then translating those shared goals and visions into the how of our daily practices and routines.

That’s how the questions of when, where, and who come in, isn’t it?

After all, a joyful learning community can’t exist in isolation.  It’s part of a large cultural and geographic context, and if the practices, routines, and norms of the little community aren’t congruent with those of the larger community, that’s a recipe for conflict, confusion, and failure.  I think of folks I know who work in really chaotic schools, the kinds where A or B, when threatened with punishment, responds with a threat about how “My Momma is gonna come up here!”  Sometimes that’s an empty threat, of course, but sometimes A’s Momma really does come up there … and why?  To protect A, her child, from an institution that seems cruel and arbitrary … an institution whose values and procedures are deeply misaligned with hers.  An institution that “has to” have security guards to protect itself from the community it (theoretically) “serves,” an institution so busy doing things to its clientele that there’s “not enough time” to do things with them.

It was never that bad in my little world … but when hierarchical individual organizational structures operate as they tend to do, that’s not an unusual place for them to end up.  And the more that Great Powers Indeed aim for standards and rigor and fidelity to the Shiny New Program, the more likely it is that you’ll end up there.

I want something different for A and B, for their Mommas and their Grandmas and all the other people who love them.  I want us to build a joyful learning community together, and I want us to be clear about who we are, about why, what, and how we’re doing.  And then I want us to find the next right place, the next when and where, and work with them to build their joyful learning community.

Who wants to join us?  When and where?


Published in: on August 8, 2014 at 9:11 pm  Comments (4)  

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  1. Quote: And if my who changes, or adapts, or becomes more like myself over time, my why and what will probably change, too.

    This is something that women learn and/or struggle with, not to get all feminist on you or anything. The “empty nest” syndrome is rooted in a woman’s identity as Mother. When children inevitably grow up and leave the home, a Mother is left with no idea what to do or why. I think that the woman’s movement had expected a working woman having an easier time with this transition because she is not so self-identified with a single role (Mother/Employee/Boss/Whatever). However, I’ve known many working women who are as lost and confused as homemakers when it comes time for the child(ren) to be gone. Single/married/divorced doesn’t matter.

    The transition is challenging. Without the “who” the what/why becomes confusing as well. However, when the “who” is not overly signified with a single identity/role, the what/why can adapt more easily. The woman who anticipates the changing role, who isn’t immersed in a singular what/why (Mother) and can release it (meaning, of course, not only the role but the child(ren) in question), the transition isn’t quite the shock that some women experience.

    I can’t even blame coffee on this blabbering. Just tired and fighting through the pain.

    • I wouldn’t say “blabbering” at all; I’d say extraordinarily profound insight. For us men, the single role that tends to take over is Worker or Employee: in my case, Teacher. When something central to that role changes or disappears, a sense of loss, confusion, and sadness often follows … but since guys culturally “aren’t supposed to” feel lost or sad, those feelings often manifest themselves as anger or depression.

      I guess I’ve been through at least three major changes, and they all had to do with “the children being gone” in a sense. I’m in my mid-forties, so when I started teaching, my students were the younger half of Generation X, my own people, as it were. When they aged out and the older set of Generation Y arrived, everything changed! Things that had “always” worked no longer worked at all, and I had to reinvent my approach to teaching. The younger set of Generation Y were quite different in some ways from the older set, another change I wasn’t expecting, but I got very comfortable working with the Y’s.

      I guess I was half-expecting the difference when the post-Millennials arrived; my own children belong to that generation and are VERY different from my students of, say, 5-10 years ago. But my “who” was so invested in the Teacher role that it was hard to see the changes in what, why, and how for quite a while. So even though I (obviously) haven’t been a mother, and even though my oldest hasn’t yet completely grown up and left, your message resonated very powerfully for me. It’s really important NOT to let your “who” be defined in a limited way or associated with a single role! Thanks again for that truly important insight.

      Does that make sense at all?

      • It does. Each generation seems to have its things and I see it in my children, their work ethic, their expectations, so different from my own (babyboomer) and my step-sister’s and husband’s (gen-x) so I would imagine that every 5 years or so, being a teacher would present a new variation on a theme, trying to meet these expectations and adjust the teaching to a different set of work ethics.

        I was fortunate in being able to anticipate my children leaving the nest. I began shifting my role in how I mothered them, giving them more freedom and letting them go in ways I that invited them to be more independent. It wasn’t an easy transition but it was surprisingly smooth.

        Unfortunately, life has a way of handing things to you for which you cannot prepare, no matter how much you may hope to do so. In 2006, when I first woke up with veritgo, and in early 2008 when I was finally diagnosed fully, I was told that there was no cure. I had to find a way to reconnect with myself, my body which was no longer the body with which I had been relatively familiar my whole life.

        And just this past year I’ve been feeling more confident and comfortable so you can imagine how my being diagnosed with yet another incurable condition has left me feeling bereft and once again disconnected from my body. I take some comfort in knowing that I know this path, I’ve journeyed down it before. I’m optimistic that I’ll find my way back sooner rather than later.

      • Yes, just about every five years (in other words, just when you think you have everything under control and going well), those generational or sub-generational shifts come along and “ruin everything” … or at least that’s what my old friends Ms. X and Mr. Y would say if they noticed the pattern. They usually don’t, though, because they’re too busy complaining about how “kids get worse every year,” etc.

        Chronic, incurable diseases definitely have a way of making you feel disconnected and bereft! I’m sorry you have to deal with yet another one, but it’s good to know that, having survived the first, you’ll be able to survive and even thrive in the face of the second one. I hope your journey back to yourself is shorter and easier this time!

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