Frantic or Relaxed?

I still don’t know the details of the Big Trip, but I gathered from Facebook comments by old friends who still work at Former School that it wasn’t a very pleasant experience for them.  That was sad, but not surprising.  If the Old Patterns held true, as Old Patterns tend to do, nobody was really prepared for the Special Experience, but everybody assumed that “those kids ought to know” how to behave and what to do in unfamiliar surroundings.  And then, if somebody didn’t, there was probably some yelling and labeling, and maybe even some shaming and blaming.  “I was too tired to deal with it,” one friend commented … and I remember that feeling well.  It was a frantic feeling, and it usually came when Ms. X, Mr. Y, and the rest of us “just wanted to relax.”  After all, the Thanksgiving Holidays are rapidly approaching, and Winter Break isn’t that far behind.

The mysterious technical glitches continued yesterday morning, but unlike poor Ms. X and Mr. Y, I wasn’t frantic about them.  When it was clear that the error messages would continue, and that I wouldn’t be joining at least one of my District Y classes, I called the Relevant People at District Y to let them know.  (“Strangely enough,” I said, “I can’t access any parts of the district website, either, including district email.  Could you forward this email to this branch of the Latin Family and this other email to the others?”)  Then it was time to call the Virtual Classroom company, who had been dealing with such reports (unsurprisingly!) all day.  And then it was time to call my ISP … and, unsurprisingly, to discover that they’d been having issues with their DNS servers all day.  A few minutes on hold, a helpful technician, and an alternate DNS server later, and we were back on line just in time for the very end of one class and the beginning of the next.

And except for a few minutes when The Dog decided to bark at Something Threatening (like a squirrel) on the lawn, I was relaxed  for the whole time.  Even when The Dog was barking, I really wasn’t frantic; I was just annoyed because I needed to hear the phone.

What is it about factory-model schools, or at least about Former School and the School Before That, that encourages frantic reactions?  And why do people seem to be so much less frantic at District Y and District Q than they were at Former School and the School Before That?  There’s something profoundly different in the institutional cultures, something that I can’t attribute to obvious things like geographic or regional differences.

What makes one institution frantic when another stays relatively relaxed?

I “just happened” to be running an errand yesterday afternoon, and I “just happened” to run into three old friends I hadn’t seen in years.  “How are you doing?” they asked, “and how are The Kids?  And are you still teaching?”  We had a lot of catching up to do!  The third friend, whose oldest children I “just happened” to teach Back In The Day, had noticed a cultural change in the Way Schools Are Around Here … and a similar cultural change in health and medical fields where she works.  She doesn’t like the change … and she’s intrigued that her younger child, who’s just transfered from the Local Community College to a School Farther Away, has noticed a huge difference in culture and expectations between where he was and where he is.  “And it isn’t fair to Those Kids,” we agreed, “because we all know they’re just as smart and capable as anybody else.  But they’re not getting the same opportunities or challenges, and they aren’t as well prepared as they think they are.”

Mark’s Google+ comment yesterday brought up a factor I hadn’t consciously considered:

Distance and perspective helped me stay calm and find sensible solutions … but distance and perspective are so rare in factory-model schools!

And the evidence for what a change in environment does for all involved.

… But that’s better than nothing, isn’t it?  Fixed Mindset ⤦

… We have a back-up plan in place, and it’s worked beautifully when we needed it.  Growth Mindset ⤤

Fixed-mindset approaches to life tend to make you frantic, while a growth mindset helps you stay relaxed.  And the institutional culture at both District Q and District Y is a lot more growth-oriented than the culture of Former School.  Mrs. K’s younger son didn’t use mindset terms, but he noticed something similar in the contrast between his experiences at the Local Community College and his Current School.  They expect so much more, he’d told his mom, and (unsurprisingly) he had risen to, even relished, the challenge.

But what makes one institution embrace a fixed mindset while another, less than 100 miles away, in a city of similar size and demographics, embraces (or seems to embrace) growth?  And more to the point, how do you transplant or infuse a growth mindset into a fixed-mindset culture?

That’s not a burning question for me at the moment; I’m happy with the growth-oriented culture of District Q and District Y, and when it’s time for the Next Right Step, that will involve building a growth-oriented culture in a new joyful learning community.  But it’s still an important question … “important but not urgent,” as Stephen Covey said, the kind of question that you need to make time for before it becomes urgent as well.  I could ask my new friends (or the Latin Family or their parents) at District Y and District Q, but I’m not sure they could tell me.  Maybe District Y and District Q have “always” embraced a growth mindset.

One key to a growth mindset, though, is joyful learning community: building them, sustaining them, strengthening them, and helping them address the hard questions that inevitably arise.  I wonder what other insights and discoveries await in the relaxed, not frantic days to come.

Published in: on November 21, 2014 at 3:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

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