When I was working from the inside, trying to build joyful learning communities at Former School and the School Before That, there were lots of things I “just knew” about how schools work, what was expected of me, and what to do in this circumstance or that one. “Don’t bother the Powers That Be” was a big one … because that would “make you look bad” and cause unspecified Bad Things to happen. “Just close my door,” as More Than One Ms. X said, “and let me teach, because this too shall pass” … that was another general-purpose guideline. “Stand at the classroom door between classes, because that will Prevent Trouble” … that one was actually stated in writing from Various Powers. “Don’t let Those Kids go places during Your Class, because that makes you and them look bad” … that was unstated, but powerful.
And of course there were other things I “just knew,” too: large, general-purpose things and small, particular things. Ms. X and Mr. Y would say those things were good because they “made the day go by a little more smoothly.” But when my circumstances changed, I found myself taking a breath and changing perspectives. All of a sudden, the things I “just knew” weren’t true anymore.
At District Q and District Y, I haven’t needed to “bother” the Powers That Be, but when I’ve needed their help, they’ve been quick (and happy) to respond. The beginning branch of the District Y Latin Family had some difficulties on Monday: it was the beginning of a new marking period and the first day back after a four-day weekend and there was a fire drill. And Im pretty sure that F, N, and W were already irritated at each other because of something earlier in the day. They started sniping at each other, and then L and C got involved, and it was clear that they needed an intervention I couldn’t provide without physically being there.
A few emails and a quick phone call later, and the situation had been resolved … not necessarily to the immediate liking of F, N, W, L, and C, but in a way that respected both them and the process and the overall needs of the Latin Family. But along the way, I found myself battling with an old perspective I had deeply internalized. “Don’t bother the Powers That Be!” was the loud interior message. “They’re busy, and they don’t want to be bothered, and Bad Things will happen! Don’t bother them!”
Where did that message come from, I wondered, and why did it seem so powerful?
All those years ago, when I was a young teacher, there were things that my colleagues “just knew.” They “just knew” that there was an endless supply of new teachers Out There, and Powers That Be would be more than happy to replace “troublemakers” and “problems.” They also “just knew” that the Powers That Be were really busy with unspecified Important Stuff. “Don’t send Those Kids Down There for Little Things” … that was the actual message from the Relevant Powers. But since Little Things are in the eye of the beholder, Ms. X and Mr. Y had no intention of sending Those Kids Down There if they could help it. Even if there was a Situation, Ms. X and Mr. Y were pretty sure they’d somehow get blamed for it. “Why did Those Kids start That Fight?” is a perfectly reasonable question for a school administrator to ask, but Ms. X and Mr. Y heard a hidden message: “Why are you such a Bad Teacher that Those Kids started That Fight? Why didn’t you Control Those Kids? Should we be looking in that endless supply of new teachers for somebody better than you?”
I highly doubt that the Relevant Powers intended to send such a message, but that’s the message Ms. X and Mr. Y received loud and clear. And they, in turn, passed the message and the expectation along to me. One Ms. X at Former School still believed it quite firmly the last time I talked to her … and that was just a few months ago.
But I really don’t want to blame Ms. X, Mr. Y, or the Relevant Powers in those days. They were all participating in a complex system, and their views and attitudes were deeply shaped by their own experiences along the way. I don’t blame myself, either, for unconsciously accepting the perspectives that Ms. X and Mr. Y transmitted to me. It’s hard not to accept the perspectives of a complex system when you’re fully participating in it.
But I’m grateful, more grateful than I’d realized, for the opportuinty to take a breath and change perspectives. And I’m grateful to Ms. E and Mr. E at District Y for the help they don’t even realize they gave me. “Of course we’ll handle it” was the message they sent … and the message I received was, “Wait a minute! This replace the Bad Teacher who bothers Powers That Be belief … that doesn’t fit with this new reality!”
When you have one of those moments of clarity, much depends on how airtight your old perspectives and stories are. You can always try to ignore the challenge to your old world view, and you can try to accommodate (or cram) the new challenge into your old understandings. But if you’re willing to take a breath and change perspectives, you might just end up with a new, different view of the world … and that new, different view might just take you in an unexpected direction.
The power of a joyful learning community, it seems to me, is that your old, formerly airtight perspectives and views are constantly, gently challenged as the community builds meaningful things together … and even when the community struggles. This morning began with fog, but the fog has cleared … adn that’s not a bad metaphor for how joyful communities change our perspectives.
I wonder what other changes and discoveries await!