Wednesday brought Back to School Night at District Y, and that meant a “full house” for each of the three eight- to nine-minute time slots I’d been allotted. It’s a big change for them! Their Former Teacher was There Forever, and everybody knew what to expect … just as everybody at my Former School knew what to expect from me. Change is hard, and for District Y, it’s more than just a change of teacher. From a physically present teacher to a virtual presence, from an old familiar textbook to the Tres Columnae Project, from a “regular” classroom to a computer lab, from a focus on grammar and translation to an emphasis on language proficiency and collaborative co-creation … almost everything is different from the Old Familiar Way. By contrast, the students at my Former School just had to adjust to a new teacher and a few new routines; their physical space and their learning materials haven’t changed.
With all the changes at District Y, you’d expect some forming and storming to occur. I don’t know for sure if there was storming; the emails I’ve had from District Y parents have been unfailingly positive and polite. But as I think about Tuckman’s stages of group development and the changes at District Y, I’m really seeing the importance of each stage for the process. And I think I have an answer for a question someone once asked me about my classroom management style and approach.
“Why do you want Those Kids to solve their own problems?” was the question in a nutshell. “Why don’t you just fix it for them like Ms. X and Mr. Y?” When C asked me that question, she was a new Latin Family member; she’s now a confident college freshman, and along the way she figured out an answer for herself. “Oh!” she said one day, “you have such high standards for us that you want all of us to learn it!”
That surprised me because C had been to good schools with good teachers. My first thought was that wanting “all of us to learn it” should be the floor of expectations, not the ceiling that it seemed to be for C. But as I thought about it over the years, I understood the deeper meaning. Unlike Ms. X and Mr. Y, if there’s a problem, I don’t just want it fixed; I want you to fix it. And I want you to know how to fix it if it happens again in the future.
That’s a big difference, and it takes a while to build a team around that idea. Along the way, there might well be some storming, some resistance, as Latin Family members discover the implications of our shared commitment to joyful learning community and ownership and building things together. That’s started to sink in for the beginning group at District Y; they’re moving away from the “silliness” I wrote about a few days ago, and they’re starting to manage themselves and take ownership of things. “I’m really sorry,” said N, “I’m just very hyper this afternoon.” And she was … but at one time N wouldn’t have named the situation or tried to resolve it. “Oh!” said L, “that’s how you can see who did what on the virtual whiteboard!” We haven’t reached “perfection,” of course, but we’re definitely progressing towards excellence.
Forming, storming, and now norming. We’ve made tremendous progress toward a shared goal and a set of expectations and procedures that will get us there. The beginners started Tres Columnae Lectio III today; we’re increasingly comfortable with finding and classifying different noun and verb forms, and we’re getting ever more comfortable with figuring out meanings of new words from contextual clues. The intermediate and advanced groups started working on their second Minor Assessment products, in which they’ll be creating and solving mysteries for each other … but less complex mysteries than those that face the advanced group at District Q. Parents’ emails were full of helpful ideas: what about a set time for virtual office hours? Could we arrange for a time, by Skype or Google Hangout or even FaceTime, when all of us could interact and get to know each other? Was there a way that I could have access to the Normal Grade Reporting System?
We already seem to be norming as we expand the joyful learning community to include parents and guardians as well as the students themselves. That’s exciting!
And that’s the thing about a joyful learning community: the excitement that comes when everyone takes ownership of a problem and works to build something meaningful as a solution. You can’t necessarily know what that solution will look like, and it probably won’t be at all the same as the “perfect” one each of you had in mind at the beginning. But if you’re patient with the process, you’ll end up with something excellent … and something that truly belongs to you, that endures, adapts, and grows stronger as time goes by.
I wonder what else will happen as we form, storm, norm, and perform in the days and weeks ahead!