“We’re fairly sure,” the folks at District Q said, “that we won’t have access to a microphone for the parents on Back to School Night.” But when the time came Thursday evening, there was a microphone, and I could hear the excitement as the parents began to arrive and as the room facilitator helped them sign in and get ready. She was excited, too. We’ve emailed a few times, but it wasn’t until last night that I found out how much she’s enjoying her time with the District Q Latin Family. “They are so self-directed!” she said, both to the parents and to me. They come in, log on, and start working on things … just like that.
I can feel the self-direction, too, and the quiet sense of ownership that pervades both the District Q group and the upper-level groups at District Y. Many of them (and many of their families) were probably involved in the effort to keep Latin going at their schools when the Former Teachers left. It’s their program, and it’s our program, and we’re building it together.
I’d almost forgotten what that feels like.
Thirteen years ago, it was the students at Former School who persuaded me to leave the Previous School to come there. “We need you,” they said through a mutual friend, “because we need to have a world-class Latin program.” I was flattered, but also humbled … and we started building things together even as the world we’d “always” known was falling apart in the aftermath of 9/11.
Building it together is important when you want it (whatever it is) to last. One person’s vision and personality can create something impressive, but will that something impressive survive when that person dies, retires, or moves on? Only if there’s been a transition from me to us, from founder’s gut feeling to understanding the deep why, as Simon Sinek reminds us. You have to start with me or us few, of course, but as you grow, the community or organization has to be involved in building it together.
We can all think of examples of “great” organizations that fell apart, disastrously, because they didn’t build it together. Previous School, the one I left thirteen years ago, approached greatness, perhaps a bit reluctantly, under a great and truly admirable principal … but it was his vision, not our vision, and when he left for greater things, it didn’t take long for the vision to fade.
I’m still in touch, from time to time, with the students and the temporary teacher at Former School during their transition … and what strikes me is that, somehow or other, we really did build a joyful learning community with a greater vision that belonged to us, not just me. “We’re doing really well,” said Ms. N the other day in an email with a few procedural questions. She’s especially impressed with the upper-level classes, who have just kept going and helped each other and, though she didn’t use the phrase, built things together as they wait for their New Teacher to arrive.
Somehow or other, the Latin Family there built a vision and some goals together, and it wasn’t just a case of me. I’m proud of them, and I’m proud of what they, too, are building together … and I have a feeling that what they’ll build together in the future will be amazing, too.
I’d hoped to attend the visitation for my old friend Ms. E yesterday afternoon, but when the time came, I was too tired for the 45-minute drive, the long line on a hot afternoon, and the condolences to family members that I’ve never met. What was different, I wondered, with my old friend B, whom I hadn’t really seen in years? Ms. E and I were colleagues and close acquaintances, and so were B and I; if anything, Ms. E and I probably spent more time together over the years than B and I did. But B, Mrs. D, M, T, and the rest of us formed a community; Ms. E, the others, and I worked together in an organization.
Building it together made a difference … a bigger difference than I realized until I sat down to write this morning. Building it together is why B’s coworkers became her friends, why they rallied around her when her husband died, why they drove her to doctors’ appointments and brought her lunch and made her favorite peanut-butter sandwiches as her health declined in the past few months. Building it together is why those early Latin Family members at Former School told me I “had to” come and teach them … and it’s why the larger Latin Family, and the Tres Columnae Project family, will keep going even when it’s hard.
Building it together means that you also build a community … or if there’s already a community, as there often is, it means that you strengthen and sustain that community. “We’re close to each other,” several Latin Family members said at both District Q and District Y on the “virtual information card” Google Form we filled out early in the year. “We have a strong sense of community,” they said. “We work together, and we help each other. Can we have more time to talk about the stories together?”
And as I read those responses a few days ago, I was reminded that the change I’m involved in, though hard, is deeply right. These joyful learning communities are important to me even though we haven’t yet met face-to-face, and even though (in some cases) I haven’t even seen their faces. But the voices, the typed responses, and the personalities are very real to me, and so is the sense of building meaningful things together.
I wonder what else we’ll build, and what else we’ll discover together, in the days and weeks to come!