I met a teacher friend for lunch today and, as always, it got me to thinking a lot. We are both in a transition phase. My friend is retiring from a successful career as a teacher, coach, and principal while I find myself in between careers, homes, and more. Given these big shifts, we spent a good deal of time talking about how this new lack of imposed structure impacts our lives. Both of us, it seems, are skilled at frittering away time AND we both enjoy the freedom and flexibility that these new lives provide. It seems we both struggle to self-impose much routine onto our own lives as we revel in the luxuries of reading, writing, thinking, working, spending time with those we love, etc. in whatever kind of time/space seemed to fit with a given day…and then look back and wonder if we have used our time well. Honestly, it feels a little like the battle between good and evil (creativity and conformity) from the Lego Movie. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with the expectation to create with my free time (imagine me buried under a literal pile of Legos with no idea where to begin) yet I fear the Kragle (detailed instructions and copious amounts of superglue) with equal disdain.
As our conversation meandered through topics, some similar ideas of structure and flexibility, and the challenge in finding the right balance between these two extremes kept resurfacing. In thinking about our spiritual traditions and practices, in thinking about a class we hope to teach together in the spring, and more, I kept wondering, “how much structure do we actually need?”
I think about a minister and his congregation, (not so different from a teacher and his students in many modern classes) reading off a script. As a person in the pew, I would bemoan what feels like an utter loss of authenticity in this script. That said, that script upholds traditions, creates continuity for believers across parishes, and provides comfort for many. Similarly, in thinking about teachers reading off of similar scripts for reading instruction, I see a tremendous missed opportunity for the teachers own love of learning to shine through a bland script. Realistically, the scripts may be entirely effective. Further, perhaps not having to reinvent the wheel frees up time and energy to be creative in other, more important ways. Both the minister and the teacher, like my friend and I in our transitions, have to to forge his/her own balance between structure and creative, authentic work.
Turning these ideas onto my own professional work, teaching a class or facilitating a group, I recognize my own compulsion to plan (structure) even minute. Whatever safety a well made plan creates for me, however, it is entirely possible that this very structure bulldozes the real-time needs of the class or group. Even all the best pre-assessment in the world doesn’t really tell you who will walk in to learn with you on a given day or where they will be excited to go with you. It seems to really co-create learning, you have to keep plans in your back-pocket but suspend them until they naturally flow out to fill the needs of the room. I would like to believe in a style of teaching/facilitating that holds the group’s needs at its core, that has faith in the skills and resources of the teacher/facilitator, and that really can shift and bend to accommodate and meet people where they are to help them grow. It might take a tremendous amount of over planning to get there so there can be structure in place for an infinite range of possibilities, but I think this is indeed possible.