In Fun Divided by Three – a tremendous podcast published on the Dirtbag Diaries – Fitz Cahall begins by explaining how outdoor types love rating systems: kayakers rate rapids; skiers rate runs; you get the idea. However, what had me both laughing , and slightly queazy, is Fitz’s explanation of how outdoor folks also rate fun. Type I fun describes events that sound like fun, are fun when doing them, and still seem fun several days later. This type of fun includes great powder skiing, day hikes with epic views, and perfect surf. Type II fun includes days when it’s mostly fun, and seems fun after the fact, but has some crummy moments scattered in as well. These are the hikes that include 4 miles of brutal vertical that kill your lungs on the way up, and then pound your knees on the way down, but are really fun to talk about over a beer. Finally, Type III fun, the ultimate misnomer, just isn’t fun. People climb Mt. Everest for Type III fun. I go sailing in Vermont, in October, on 40º rainy days, for Type III fun. Basically, it’s not fun until you get home.
You may wonder where I’m going with this. See, I was inspired by Fitz and started thinking about my work. Seems to me like this rating system also applies to school work – just in a different sort of way.
This is work work. Type I work includes the mundane tasks that you hate in your job. There’s no reward, no glory in their accomplishment, and you question their validity throughout the process of completing them. For me, this is PowerSchool.
We use Pearson’s PowerSchool as our Student Information System (SIS). When I started at St. Michael’s five years ago, one of my first projects was to create a central database – besides the rolodex on the receptionists desk. We needed something highly flexible and highly customizable. I’ve lost months of my life to PowerSchool. Most recently, I’ve been coding custom screens for our parents to view their report cards online. What a massive time suck. There are system generated screens that could easily do the job, but our administrators wanted something that looked pretty; so, I have coded, and tested, 8 distinct screens (each of which will need to be updated for each grading period), to make the school logo appear and ensure report card prettiness.
Type II work has some inherent value, though it may be hard to discern at first glance. Last Monday (January 4th), we participated in a three school, professional development day. Throughout the fall, a colleague and I met with the other school planners to create this day. Throughout the planning process, Sam and I complained – a lot. We feared that the day would be an absolute bust. The plan called for individual teachers to lead two, small, hour-long workshop sessions. It also required the rest of the three faculties to sign up for those sessions. The whole process closely resembled pulling teeth.
To further add to the work, I volunteered to teach not one, but two workshop sessions. I admit that my second one was a remix of a previous endeavor; however, it still required some effort. During our winter break, I devoted about four hours to the creation of my presentation notes and the gathering of resources. Since Mike and I took the late flight back from Salt Lake City (doing some Type I fun on the slopes) the night before, I then delivered my two workshops on two hours of sleep.
It was the day after the event that I realized the Type II-ness of the process. The faculty loved the day. People found value in collaborating with other professionals. I even received some compliments for my workshops: Making Order from Chaos – 10 things that everyone should know to make the Internet useful in the classroom and Using Technology to Support Diverse Learners.
I guess my scale is in reverse of Fitz’s. With Type III work, it’s hard and frustrating, but you understand the absolute value the entire time. This is the one-on-one with a student kind of work, or the we’re-in-this-together project with an eager class.
Most recently, it best describes the five hours that I spent before the break with Charlie (his real name isn’t Charlie, but I don’t teach a Charlie). The sixth grade was frantically working to complete their projects for the history fair – a tremendous, well-differentiated, well-constructed project. Charlie had been assigned North American geography as his topic, and two days before the due date, had nothing completed. Each student needed to write a five-paragraph essay and prepare a presentation for the fair. Charlie was lost.
You have to understand that this student reads well below grade level, struggles with vocabulary, and has significant gaps in his learning. Over two days, I worked to teach him how to take notes, create an outline, draft an essay, and then edit his final draft. At 4:00 on a Friday afternoon – he volunteered to stay after school in order to finish his work – we finished. He had written his first essay, and it was all his.
Type III work makes educators want to stay in the field of teaching. It results in those teachable moments, includes the lessons that generates enthusiasm in the classroom, and thrusts students to new heights. Unfortunately, Type III work occurs sporadically within the current framework of our schools and educational system. We usually spend our days trudging through Type I tasks, and laboring through the occasional Type II day. In his last post for 2009, Will Richardson looks forward to the potential of the next decade.
And, if like me you believe that the current structure of the education system in this country (and elsewhere) is fundamentally flawed in preparing students for a life of learning, then this may be the decade real change breaks out. Or not. – Will Richardson, 2020 Vision?
Perhaps, if we’re lucky, this is the decade of Type III work.