Friday, July 28, 2006

anticipation and the ash street inn

When Ellen and I arrived at our B&B on Ash Street in Manchester New Hampshire yesterday afternoon, the innkeepers were not in. There was an envelope on the desk in the vestibule, however, reading "Ellen & Jonathan." Inside was a note, reading as follows:

"Good Afternoon Ellen & Jonathan: Welcome to the Ash Street Inn. Sorry we missed your arrival. We have gone to the coast [of Maine] to run some errands.

"Enclosed is your key, which will open the door in front of you, with the stained glass, as well as your room. Your room, #207, is on the second floor, top of the stairs to the right.

"At the end of the hall on the first floor is the dining room. There is bottled water in the refrigerator as well as snacks on the counter should you be hungry. Please make yourself at home. We should be returning by 4 PM, and will look forward to meeting you then. Darlene & Eric"

What struck me about this note, and the welcoming disposition it represents, is how frequently we encounter this attitude and this approach among teachers (more often those teaching at the elementary than at the secondary level, I will grant) as they prepare their classrooms for the coming school year.

What also struck me is how rarely we encounter such attitudes, such welcoming dispositions, among either teachers or school administrators with regard to their own colleagues or teaching staff. When was the last time you walked into a pre-school year inservice day and found a note from a school administrator reading "Dear [your first name]: Welcome back to school. There is bottled water in the refrigerator as well as snacks on the counter should you be hungry. Please make yourself at home."

We don't receive such notes, nor do we think of composing them for our teaching colleagues, because we do not see ourselves as "clients" for whom the school is providing a "service." We are the ones being paid, after all. We should be the ones providing services, we reason, rather than the ones receiving them. And so we prepare our rooms, we think about what we learned last year or over the summer that might be used to modify the learning opportunities our students will encounter in the coming year, and we prepare our school year curricula.

What would happen if we applied this same "disposition of heightened expectations" to one another? What would happen if school administrators brought the same anticipation of the year to come to their teachers as these same teachers routinely bring to the students they will be teaching?

Isn't the analogy pretty compelling? Prior to the beginning of the school year, we prepare our classrooms and our curriculum materials in the way we do because we anticipate that our students will be more successful as learners because of the modifications and alterations we make in their "learning environments." Why shouldn't the same be true of ourselves as learners? Wouldn't we also be more disposed to see the coming school year as an opportunity for learning something new, for change and growth, if we were regarded just as we regard the students we teach?

What might we do, among ourselves, to bring such beginning-of-the-school-year dispositions into effect? As a start, how about following the lead of Darlene & Eric and writing short notes to our colleagues, welcoming them back? How about talking with your school administrators about the activities they are planning for those inservice days prior to the beginning of the school year? Might everyone on the staff bring in a family photo and write about the event commemorated by this photo; might everyone bring in "something round, something funny, and something they have read" that has special significance to them, and create a short 'speech' about this artifact; might everyone bring in an object from their family's past that has been brought from some prior country and/or culture to their present place of residence, and write about the 'journey' this object has taken?

Why don't we routinely think of such 'community building' exercises as what we expect at the beginning of the school year? Can't we learn to regard our colleagues with the same affection, the same sense of heightened expectation, as we do our very own students?

1 comment:

miz p said...

This sounds like the kind of thing that Laura is working on with the invitational writing workshop with her staff. I am very intrigued by the idea, yet tentative about how to apply it in my own teaching situation because of how overwhelmed the staff is always feeling about time commitments, meetings, and committees. How to bring the spirit of the thing to a captive audience during the school year is the biggest puzzle. First we have to start with administration that welcomes the idea and its bigger purpose.