Sunday, May 13, 2012

If it ain’t broke, break it, then make everyone miserable fixing it

The “Principal’s Piece” in this week’s issue of our school’s newsletter:
The Intermediate (3/4) and Upper (5/6) students participated in a lunchroom survey. The students, overwhelmingly, shared that their lunchroom experience was a negative one. About half of the students stated that it was a negative experience because they felt they were not being respected and wanted to be able to carry on conversations instead of following staff members’ re-directions throughout lunch. The other half stated it was a negative experience because the lunchroom was too noisy and uncomfortable for them. I approached the students with a compromise. We are no longer turning the lights off and requiring students to sit silently during the last 2 minutes of lunch. A clap pattern is done to quiet students down to get the table wipers ready and tables are dismissed or students are dismissed based on those who are sitting quietly and respectfully, with clean areas, and ready to go. The students have shared with me that they like this much better. They shared there is still room for improvement and we are asking for your help. Through the end of this school year, we invite all parents to Hoover to eat lunch and help students follow table/eating expectations (similar to what you would expect in a restaurant). We hope to start a parent volunteer program for next year to help model these expectations.
What a piece of work this “Principal’s Piece” is. The fifth- and sixth-graders can remember when lunch, though rushed, was at least a pleasant break from their day. Now, in the name of teaching “expectations,” the school has succeeded in making everyone unhappy. Does anyone believe that half the students find the lunchroom too noisy? Could it be that it is “uncomfortable” for them because of the response it triggers from the lunchroom attendants?

With less than three weeks of school left, the school has finally realized that its year-long lunchroom behavior management program has left the children feeling “overwhelmingly” that lunch is a negative experience. Never mind that people have been pointing it out since the first week of school. (Recall that the principal told me in December that “I do not have the feeling Hoover has a negative atmosphere - nor do the teachers and many of the parents I do see volunteering at school.”) I would think that in those circumstances the school would take some responsibility – maybe, Heaven forbid, even apologize – rather than attribute the problem to the children’s own incorrigible misbehavior.

Clay Shirky once said that “institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.” Sometimes, apparently, they have to create the problem first.

No comments: