Saturday, August 29, 2009

Moving at the speed of YOU

My father-in-law was telling a story this morning about getting an assembly line machinist job in an engine manufacturing company when he was 16, in England.

In order to get the job, he had to answer several questions, including one about how many engines his team of 10 could make in an hour if 2 of the guys were new, and 8 were the fastest in the company.

He guessed, and said they could do 10 an hour. The supervisor said that number was a little high, taking into consideration that even the fastest guys in the company were limited to the speed of the new guys. In order to ensure quality, the speed of the line would be decreased until everyone’s collective expertise moved the line faster.

“In essence,” the supervisor said, “we will move at the speed of you.”

My father-in-law continued to talk about how, over the course of the following few weeks, they would check on him periodically to see how he was. The guys on his team would offer tips and tricks to make his practice better, and after a brief period, he was working at a great rate, holding his own with the experienced workers.

While my father-in-law was just relaying a story from his youth, I thought this story spoke volumes about teaching and learning, both with students in the classroom and with adults in professional development. (How often have we been in learning situations where the teacher or staff developer moved at the speed of “themselves?”)

How often do we REALLY support each other to ensure quality for all? How often do we share our tips and tricks at a level that brings everyone to a collective expertise? How often do we facilitate that level of support in our students, enabling them to help and guide each other?

As someone who is in schools often working with teachers, I thought that this story underscored the importance of positivity, collegiality, and generosity. To tell someone that we will “move at the speed of YOU” is huge. It’s a relationship and trust building practice that helps to sustain the work we do for the long haul. It benefits everybody, most importantly, our students.

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