Feels Like a New Year

With the technical issues all resolved, the District Q Latin Family had a wonderful day together this morning.  It feels like a new year … and not just because District Y schools are closed today to celebrate the new year that begins today for many of their students.  It also feels like a new year because we have found a set of structures that work well for us.  In some ways it’s very familiar, very similar to what the Latin Family “always” did at Former School … and what they’re probably still doing as they make their transition.  In other ways, of course, it’s very different … and not just because we meet virtually rather than physically.  The demographics, the school culture, the surrounding communities are different, and those differences shape the expectations we all have and the approaches we take.  They even shape the products we can build and the ways we present them.

For example, our time together is both shorter and longer.  At District Q, we see each other on alternating days for an hour; at District Y, for just under an hour three days out of four.  But we’re together all year, unlike the Latin Family at Former School, with its 95-minute daily classes for a semester.  We have time together, but we can also take time apart to do preparatory work … and that’s a big difference from Former School, where Ms. X and Mr. Y’s beliefs about “being rigorous” led to piles of meaningless “homework” that students tended to “do” (or copy from each other) in place of the work in other classes.

Of course, I don’t have physical eyes in the schools at District Q or District Y, so I don’t know what happens in Ms. X or Mr. Y’s class there.  But I do know that the Latin Family seems to enjoy the opportunity to do some work together, some at home.  We’ve even done some independent reading of Tres Columnae Project stories at home with the intermediate and advanced groups; they have a time limit of “no more than 30 minutes,” a set of stories to read, and a Google Form to complete that asks them how much they could read, what level of reading proficiency they felt, and a few other questions depending on the week.

Reactions have been overwhelmingly positive, and the suggestions for ways to improve the process have been remarkable.  “Could we find a way to work on the stories together?” asked U.  And of course they could, because U’s classmates all live fairly close to each other and all have ready access to technology at home.  So for our current Characters of Focus, which include Valerius’ primary servants (Milphio, Casina, and Gallicus), Valeria and Vipsanius, Lucius and “the girl he loves but cannot have,” and a few other options, we were able to form “physical or virtual” pairs or teams.  They’ll be emailing me today to tell me who is working together and which character they’ve chosen, and then I’ll send out links to the relevant stories from Lectiōnēs XV through XXVI.  They did a spectacular job today of making summaries of the stories they’d read since Tuesday, and I want to build on that (and save our precious time together for things that are best done together) as we move forward into our shared New Year.

Could that have happened at Former School?  Perhaps.  Way Back In The Day, when it operated on a very different schedule with shorter classes, the Latin Family did certain things together, other things at home … but there were always cases like E, who had to work 40 hours a week after both of his parents lost their jobs, or U who didn’t have a stable environment to work in.  Or B and D who “got kicked out” by their parents and moved around from one friend’s place to another … or so many others who come to mind.

There’s a sense of stability in both District Q and District Y … not just in the family situations of Latin Family members, but in the operations of the districts themselves.  In These Parts, students wouldn’t necessarily have network logins for an online environment on the first day of school; in some schools, the network itself might not be functioning, or perhaps no one would have been assigned to monitor That Group.  District Q and District Y are smaller than Former District, of course, and the community turnover is slower, and the expectations are very different.  That’s why we were up and running so quickly … and that, too, is why this feels like a new year.

I needed that feeling more than I had realized.  I hadn’t realized how depleted I felt by the “inevitable” minor chaos of a New Year at Former School … but then, all of a sudden, I found myself with a new year where there simply wasn’t any minor chaos.  Somebody even apologized for a minor student behavior issue, and Somebody Else had a sensible, proactive suggestion for an emergency backup if our virtual classroom has technical issues.

People in These Parts like to talk about community, but all too often our communities and schools are fragmented.  From what I’ve seen of District Q and District Y, the sense of community is stronger, more robust, than anything I’ve experienced in years.  That makes it easier to build a joyful learning community, and in odd ways it reminds me of Back In The Day at Very Former School, back before all the new development and new schools and expansion, back when One Principal bragged about how the students came together to solve problems and issues.  Those weren’t entirely Good Old Days, of course, but the parallels are intriguing.

I’m curious to see how the rhythms of this new year and these new contexts will develop in the days and weeks to come!



Published in: on September 25, 2014 at 2:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

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