Working Out Well

Alert readers may have noticed that I haven’t said much about the exciting potential partnership I’ve referred to over the past two weeks.  Things still aren’t finalized, so I still don’t want to say much … but they seem to be moving in a good direction.  I think I can say it looks like the Tres Columnae Project family of learners and collaborators will be expanding this fall.  I hope I’ll be able to welcome the new partners officially and in detail before too long … and I hope I’ll be able to share more good news of things working out well.

It’s funny, because this morning I was really feeling the pain of not knowing.  “I can’t do this,” said the old, familiar voice that Seth Godin calls The Lizard Brain or The Resistance.  “I can’t go in this direction or that direction; I can’t stay where I am; and I can’t move.  All is hopeless and bleak, and permanent failure is certain.”  That’s usually a sign that a breakthrough is near, but even when you know that and remember that, The Resistance still seems powerful.  “I can’t even do This One Simple Thing, and even if I did, it wouldn’t work.”

One of the Simple Things was to send an email and ask about the status of the exciting potential partnership.  About ten minutes before I was going to sit down and write that email, I “just happened” to get a status update.  And an apology, even though the hold-up hadn’t been on their end, but with another party involved.  And some good news about the increased size of the partnership, too.

Things had been working out well all along.  I’m glad I’ve had the patience and courage to keep going till good news comes.  After all, quitting is always an option … and sometimes quitting is the best option.  If a Particular Thing isn’t getting any better, and it’s clear that it won’t be getting any better, the sensible response is to quit doing the Particular Thing.  The only problem is that then, just when the “I can’t do this” message would actually make sense, The Resistance often switches gears and starts encouraging you to keep on keeping on and stick your nose to the grindstone.

Or at least my Resistance does.  I’m not sure if that’s a universal trait, or if it’s culturally conditioned by my background and by all the years I’ve spent working in factory-model schools.  “Why should I do The Work?” U asked his teachers and counselor in a meeting twenty years ago.  “I’ve missed so many days of school that The Policy says I have to fail.  Why should I do The Work if I’m going to fail anyway?”  None of us were ready for U’s question, of course, because in a factory-model school, you’re “supposed to” do it anyway.  “Well, U,” Ms. X finally said, “maybe, just maybe, if you really do all the work, maybe we can find a way for you to pass anyway.”

U didn’t buy it … and in retrospect, I think he was wise.  At the time, of course, I was surprised and displeased just like Ms. X and Mr. Y because, after all, you’re “supposed to” do it anyway.

Actually, though, I think they were just displeased.  They weren’t surprised, because they’d already dismissed U with the “bad, lazy kid, just like the rest of his family” label.

If there’s anything Many A Ms. X and Mr. Y wants to avoid, it’s that label of “bad and lazy.”  Over the years, I’ve known Many A Teacher who “went in early,” spending hours of unpaid time and piles of unreimbursed money on the endless quest to “get My Room ready.”  I’ve even been That Teacher … and despite all the hours and dollars I spent, I always felt there was something more I should have done.  When I talk with Many A Ms. X and Mr. Y, I hear the same thing: something more they should have done.

But what?  And why?  And for whom?

In the hierarchical structure that most schools are, Many A Ms. X and Mr. Y is convinced that if they just make The Boss happy, things will be working out well.  And they think The Boss will be happy with a “perfect” classroom … because that’s what would make them happy, after all, if they were The Boss.  Meanwhile, The Boss, with a long list of priorities and mandates from Greater Powers Yet and a severely limited amount of time to get everything done, isn’t unhappy with all those “perfect” classrooms, but is probably wishing for some other things that didn’t get done because Ms. X and Mr. Y had too much to do and not enough time.  Why?  Because they spent hours and hours on the “perfect” classroom, of course … and because everybody assumed a consensus about why, how, and what, so nobody bothered to check.

And of course, when you assume but don’t bother to check, it’s just about certain that things won’t be working out well.

The great thing about a joyful learning community is that you really can’t assume.  Or if you do, you’ll find out quickly that your assumptions were wrong … and then you may get sad or mad, but eventually you’ll do the hard work of building a consensus about That Important Thing.  I’m glad I didn’t just assume that everything had fallen apart when I didn’t hear from the Relevant People!  I’m glad I didn’t just assume that no news must be bad news … or, for that matter, that no news must mean that all was going according to the original plan.  As we continue to build all sorts of joyful learning communities in all sorts of unlikely-seeming venues, I wonder what other examples of things working out well we’ll be able to find and share!


Published in: on August 13, 2014 at 10:01 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] I started to write today’s blog post, I got a call with more potentially good news about that potential partnership I keep referring to in general terms.  Things still aren’t completely finalized, but […]

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