I hope this post finds you well. I've learned a few things since my post last week, so this one includes a redaction! I wrote that student suspension requires a unanimous vote by the school; I have since learned that it actually takes a ⅔ super majority vote. I've also learned that suspensions are not as rare as I'd imagined. In those cases, students are able to return when they present their plan for coming back. I believe they can be voted back in by the school meeting.
Anything that serves to further develop the community's collective and individual conflict skillsets is great in my book. I think it's good to offer each other a chance to return, fresh and hopefully more able to commit to belonging and working together. Community seems to be a fundamental praxis here - a steady ebb and flow of reflection, action, and learning how to articulate our expectations of each other. I'd like to hear more from students who have taken time away and returned. Theirs seems to be a learning process that's very valuable on its own.
So: reflection and action. I'm a quarter of the way through my time here and it is flying by. It's a good time to check in and do some course-correction, hence, redactions and assumptive adjustments.
As is my way (nerd), I’ve consolidated all of my questions into a long list… eighteen in total. Overkill? Possibly. But, consider this: this seems to be the way learning is done, both at Clearwater in students’ own ways and in my own. We self-assess. We check our comprehension. We ask for comments. We grow.
I'm continuously grateful for the feedback I receive from students and staff. I try to strike a balance between observation, sharing in conversation, playing music with students, and researching. Somewhere in there, I try to fit a little time each day to seek input and also reflect on what I'm learning. I find I can be more available, more present, and more able to contribute authentically to these relationships as I take time to reflect.
My long list collapses down into three central themes.
“Is it too good to be true? Does this school really work like they (students and staff) say it works?”
Do I believe that democratic freedom of all school meeting members is an aspirational value rather than a practiced fact of life here? Do I privately still look to staff as final authorities in school life? Do students?
“Am I able and willing to fully trust students?”
I've found myself occasionally jumping in and offering unnecessary thoughts in student conversations. Whether I'm trying to help or teach seems to be beside the point if I ask myself this question of trust. If I trust that they are learning, why would my steering be necessary?
When I slip into adultist or authoritarian behaviors, am I not actually withholding their rightful autonomy as learners and individuals? Am I being passively disrespectful of youth when I look toward older students and staff for guidance?
Am I going to be able to finish projects here?
It’s a combination of auditory overwhelm, competing projects, and competing interests. I’m torn in so many different directions: do I attend a club right now, or try to finish my education essay? Do I take something off a staff member’s to-do list or do I get to know a student better? Do I attend JC or do I spend some time in the play room?
I’m aware that I’m a ceilings-thinker when working in a given institution. I want to be able to see the bar, the community standard, and exceed it. The bar moves, naturally and often, and goals shift even as they’re made, but I still want the signposts. Part of me wants the administrative, top-down to-do list. Part of me likes being graded on what I've done.
Don't get me wrong, I'm doing a lot. Everyone here is doing a lot of things - projects, clubs, performances, skill sharing, playing. Perhaps a part of my learning curve while here is making cognitive adjustments to freedom. No grades, no gods, no masters: just learning how to get things done together and on my own as a part of this awesome, tiny community.
But the reason for all these questions - and for laying them all out here - is that growth takes conscious effort. It will take time, and many tiny mistakes, to grow into a greater trust of this larger learning project we are a part of here. I want to do right by the students and staff, to check my assumptions and untangle the sticky webs of 'common sense’ that keep us from fully appreciating the day-to-day work/play balance of growing in community across power differentials.
It would be easier to play chameleon and blend in without engaging critically with the concepts and practices that are put in place around me. But where's the fun in that? Comprehension checks are vital for making sure I actually get it, and if I don't, why not, and how can I get there? With 90-something people to learn from, I don't have to look far for someone to help me untangle the knots and teach me something new.
Man, I love it here. I love the curiosity and excitement this group of people bring out in me. And I love my list of eighteen questions. It's another little marker of the gift this internship is for me as a new student in alternative education.
Thank you for reading, and have a great weekend!
Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
Rainer Maria Rilke