Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The visual image of yours truly in Speedos is a pathetic attempt at sensationalism and really is scraping the bottom of the barrel for something creative to say. It's been like that all week and, as is obvious, there've been several days on which I've given up trying to say anything at all.

Re-reading my past entries, it's like I'm having some kind of identity crisis. Am I writing a diary? review column? news commentary? edu-torial? I don't know any more. It's something I have to sort out and soon. Whatever.

Anyway, we had a big staff meeting today. It was a mass reflection exercise of the various aspects of college life from management, staff and student perspectives. We carried it out in a "speed-dating" format: 5-6 of us staff gathered around one of several small tables, all pouring our hearts out on a topic specific to our table. A half-hour of for-the-record soul-searching, garment-rending, sitting-in-ashes discussion later, and we're off to another table, trading partners and a new topic to verbally dissect.

Don't know how the other table discussions went, but I ended up discussing student leadership at a couple of my tables.

The general consensus seems to be that students don't move, or do anything else for that matter, unless and until a Teacher has to not only tell them to do it, but also HOW to do it. It seems like we're raising up people who are good at carrying out orders (and those orders have to be very specific) and little else. Sure, there is a tiny handful who try to go beyond their programming to do something on their own accord, but for the vast majority it's more like input-output, stimulus-response, which can be quite draining and fruitless for everyone.

I think part of the reason is that our culture still does not encourage enough risk-taking, and the other part is that we don't appreciate students' efforts enough.

For reason #1, we staff have an idea of what is the "right" way to do things and how to go about meeting our desired objectives. We apply our standards to what the students are proposing and then we take over, running roughshod over their proposals, critiquing every minute detail and then take over both responsibility and execution of the project from the students (like we don't already have enough to do). No wonder we are stressed out and overworked, while the students have no confidence in themselves.

Reason #2 ties into reason #1. As staff, we haven't learned to say, "thank you," nicely to our students. Instead, during post-mortems for events we launch into salvos of "why didn't ___ work?" "what went wrong with ___?" "why didn't you do __?" focusing on the negatives and worrying that praise will swell their heads and they'll get complacent next time.

I'm not saying that we should celebrate mediocrity, though. What I am saying is that our attitude should be more appreciative of the work that has been done, while the students themselves look for how things can improve through their own observations of their own performance so that "doing better next time" is is a natural part of the process rather than an imposition from on-high. And, senior students should teach their juniors so that lessons learnt in one generation are not lost to the next.

Sometimes, we staff are so pressed for time -- particularly as the JC curriculum has a mayfly life-cycle of effectively only 18 months -- that we expect instant perfection. Of a developing student leader, that's asking a bit much.

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