the pencil planning committee

I don't believe in committees.  Like bureaucracy, the term is too difficult to spell and too cumbersome to endure.  Committees often turn to mindless group think, chatty ego boosting and a lack of innovation out of a desire to mitigate liability.  Besides, they always hand us binders (seriously, do I need another binder?) and agendas and we sit at a table so I can't get away with drawing pictures (the way I would at an in-service).  As the pencil representative, it's my responsibility to attend.

The conversation appears innocuous and civil.  Each member of the Pencil Planning Committee (PP Committee for short) shares input on pencil integration.  Think of this as a secret password phase.  I can say anything that I have heard at a conference and people nod their head in approval.  For example, I might say, "We need to focus less on pencil skills and more on thinking with pencils."  Then, I can make a joke out of word play and say, "I didn't mean to call you morons."  People chuckle and I'm in the club.

A few other options are:
  • Teachers need to learn how to use pencils.  It's not an option. 
  • We need to go beyond pencils and think of what a true twentieth century pedagogy should mean
  • Let's keep in mind that there needs to be a connection between theory and practice. Let's make sure the pencils don't drive the instruction. 
  • We need to convince people that pencils are not scary.  Yes, they can poke an eye out, but that's why we have something called classroom management. 
  • Let's get pencils into the hands of students.  Why do teachers get all the good ones?  
For my part, I use the phrase, "Kids are pencil natives.  They come to class knowing penmanship.  Do we really need a pencil class?"

All of the above comments are valuable.  Indeed, they create a shared sense of values within the group. I have used every one of them at some point.  The word "used" is key here.  On a subterranean level, each of us jockeys for power and uses language as our weaponry.  For all the smiles and nodding (I'm beginning to feel like a bobble head) we are competing for a voice in how our district will use its resources.

As the conversation moves into practical elements, we begin to lose sight on everything we just shared.  The dialog quickly shifts to better teacher pencils.  

"Let's get colored pencils for the teachers.  If they fall in love with the quality pencils they will be more comfortable and eventually move into integration."  

"Ooh, I like that.  And what about making the shift to using only iParchment."  

"Our district could pilot iTablets so that all teachers could have a portable notebook that they can touch."  

I step in at this point.   "All paper is touchable.  Yes, some of them come with carbon paper that we can trace with our fingers, but is that really crucial to better learning? Besides, we just talked about a shift away from skills and away from teacher-centered integration and now we are focussed on colored pencils?  Are these just gestures we are using or do we really believe in a twentieth century education?"  

I tell the group that we need to have pencils in the hands of students, that professional development must be horizontal and that teachers with pencil experience should create a proposal for using piloting 1:1 pencils to student ratios and then mentor the next teachers.  I rattle off ideas and offer quick comebacks to anyone who challenges me.  

Paul the Pre-industrial Poet attends the meeting and remains quiet through the entire thing until it is over. 

"Can you believe what just happened?" he asks. 

"Yeah, the teachers started out really selfish, huh?  We talk about the social and political barriers that get in the way of pencil integration, but what about the human barrier of pride?  What if the biggest issues involve things like ego and selfishness?"  

"I agree," he adds.  

"So, I was able to steer it in the right direction."  

"I agree with your thoughts on ego and selfishness.  But I'm wondering if you might be searching for specks and ignoring planks.  Your school will be piloting the new initiative and you will be the one being recognized in the process.  Your classroom will have a set of pencils next year. Is it possible that this is about you?"  

He's right.  For all my talk of collaboration and wise decision-making, I tend to define those on my terms.  Collaboration is great so long as one agrees with me.  Wisdom is necessary as long as the decisions are in my hands.  What happened there was not honest dialog, but merely deceptive power-grabbing and I was the one who bullied my way to the top.

2 comments:

  1. I have just posted to your Facebook page but I feel the urgent need to communicate on your plog as well. There is alarming news in the NYTimes about the consequences of this rush to bring pencils into schools.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/25/fashion/25Therapy.html?sudsredirect=true

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  2. John, this was so funny that I'll be chuckling all day.

    Josie, your link is another example of how everyone's child is "exceptional" at either the high or low end of the spectrum.

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