16. Convergent Thinking and Solidarity in the New Learning Infrastructure

Mary had not expected the kind of interview she experienced.

While topics discussed were professionally substantive, of even greater significance was the way she felt. Not an emotional milieu but an overwhelming feeling of acceptance and oneness.

She remembered her father’s enjoyment of an old TV series, A Band of Brothers, the story of an army unit during World War II. The dynamics of that story were like the camaraderie he felt in the military.

As a young girl, Mary had no idea what camaraderie meant. So, she looked it up. Synonyms appeared: team spirit, fellowship, and companionship.

But her emotion during that interview was more like solidarity.

Solidarity not as whimsy or “all for one and one for all.” Convergence means more than agreement. Solidarity is more than close working together.

Mutual effort, even in an interview process, is focused on one mission —quality student learning.

How can quality student learning defy easy definition? Because every student is different. An evolving human being is not something static or measurable at any given moment.

Mary Chapman’s Story – Part 14

I told my husband, “The interview made me feel like we were  converged around a multipart mission. Together, we would accomplish the task by achieving a sense of solidarity.”

A friend of my family was a middle school language arts teacher when the middle school movement was thriving in the 1980s. She was part of an interdisciplinary team made up of other eighth grade teachers and sometimes a counselor or parents.

The team met weekly. They talked about the progress being made by each student. While the primary focus was on academics, observations about behavior, emotional health, and other aspects of development were shared.

This weekly review underscored professional convergence and solidarity.

But by the end of the 1990s, the middle school movement was a victim of the new national way of thinking: an emphasis on subject area standards, high stakes testing, objective data collection, accountability processes based on those data, and comparative analyses of schools and districts.  

School districts could not revert to the old junior high configuration fast enough. Advocates of the middle school movement looked like misguided souls who turned education into touchy-feely nonsense.

But clearly it was NOT nonsense. It was holistic, not piecemeal. It evaluated the growth of what was then referred to as the whole child.

It addressed many factors ignored or disapproved of over the last 20 years by NCLB and later iterations of its philosophical underpinnings. The antithesis of what became micromanagement of schools by external bureaucracies and governmental agencies.

Ignored or disapproved of were interdisciplinary teams that guided students toward fact-based decision making, based on evidence and problem-solving skills. Using an understanding of science and math, an appreciation of the written word, and principles of democratic reasoning and application.

Sometimes called “Camelot Days” teachers were trusted to guide student development and formatively evaluate their progress.

A partial remnant of “Camelot Days” is the modern-day professional learning community (PLC). A popular movement found in many districts, including the one in which I was interested.

PLCs do not all function the same way, as was the case in the interdisciplinary movement. But if organized properly, the effort to stimulate professional dialogue could be beneficial.

If the PLC purpose and operating agendas were strong enough and accepted well by all stakeholders.

The district in which I interviewed used PLC strategies to precisely develop and employ policy development. It systemically created and implemented long range plans using a PLC called the Curriculum Council.

Processes for writing curriculum and making sure it was used as intended.

The curriculum coordinator and other teachers showed me how the process worked in development and use.  

Since I applied for a seventh-grade science position, I was shown the curriculum for that subject and grade level. Based on a district science mastery statement and a mastery (purpose) statement for the grade level.

I showed them my work in the university simulation. The teachers liked what I had done. They suggested that we could discuss the differences and come up with something even better.

The day after my interview I received a call from the superintendent. “Congratulations for  doing so well in the interview process. I will recommend your employment at the next meeting of the board of education. Please attend the meeting, prepared to answer questions members might ask.”  

The following day I was asked to sign the contract. The beginning of what would become an exciting professional adventure!

©2021 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved

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