The Lego Compromise

With the start of our summer holidays, I’ve had a lovely time playing with my 2 sons. The eldest recently turned 5 and received lots of new lego to add to his already impressive stash! But the influx of new blocks and pieces exacerbated what was already a topic of contention in our household.

In the lead up to our wedding my husband and I were required to attend some pre-marriage counselling sessions with our church pastor – pretty simple, run of the mill stuff. We filled in questionnaires and then discussed the points where our answers were deemed by a computer to lead to possible conflict. All sorts of little things were included, from how we use the toothpaste tube to which way the toilet paper should hang from the roll. But nowhere amongst the minutiae were we questioned about Lego… and perhaps we should have been!

You see, we have fundamentally different ideas about the purpose and process of playing with Lego. Perhaps not entirely surprising when you consider I am something of a Performing Arts and Languages teacher and he is a Design & Technology (aka TAS) teacher. For me Lego is all about building whatever takes your fancy, trying new ways of doing something and creating creatures or scenes. It doesn’t matter if you can’t find the exact block you need, because you can choose a slightly different one that will do the same job. For him, there are instructions included with each set which lead step by step to the construction of what was pictured on the box. After it is built, should it be broken down again, it goes back in its original box with the original instructions. For me, it doesn’t matter if it all ends up in one big box because you can mix and match it – plus the alternative is that it will go up the vacuum cleaner next time I do the housework if the boys leave it lying around. So we recently reached loggerheads… It was time for a compromise. In the end we found it easily at Bunnings.

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All the blocks are now in 2 cases, sorted by colour and type of block. The instructions are filed away in a folder on the bookshelf. Simple! We are both satisfied and the blocks can serve both purposes and building styles.

All this has had me thinking about the year I’ve just had at school, the little conflicts which have arisen from time to time and how they’ve been dealt with – people are all a bit like Lego, but so is our subject matter. One would assume that teachers of the same subject area would all see the subject in a similar way. But that’s not necessarily the case. Kind of obvious when I think about it, but only really hit me this week.

We teach the same material but in different ways. When one of us feels we are being told to teach the same way as another without some form of dialogue and consultation, there is bound to be unease. While Teacher A may see grammar (to use an MFL example) as being the most important building block and feel it needs to be the focus, Teacher B may see it as just a component of communicating. Teacher C may see students’ using the language to create their own texts as the key. And all of these teachers are also trying to meet the needs of their rather varying students. We all look at the same language, but our focus and use of that language may be different. We all assess the same language and skills, but how we see that assessment taking place may be different. We need to find the commonality so that we can assess as our students’ needs require but also so that the assessment is still comparable. All of that takes openness, dialogue and a willingness to compromise and find that middle ground. Surely the result will be a more balanced and rounded learning experience for our students. New Year’s Resolution number 1 – encourage my fellow team members to be open in considering all our differing perspectives so that we cover all our students’ needs better.

And what about at a whole school level? Conflict at a staff meeting? Disagreement about policy? What if the cause for such disagreement is not a total difference of opinion, but rather a difference in perspective and focus? Is there a perspective that has not yet been considered? Would staff be more engaged in their own schools if their perspectives were included in the dialogue more explicitly? My husband and I both agree that the Lego blocks are for creating something – how we arrive at that creation and the storage of the blocks needed an actual discussion because our perspectives were different.

I know, issues in schools are rarely as simple as how to store Lego and take considerably more time and effort to work through. Plus the time frames for implementing things are usually tight to begin with. But I wonder… Is a Lego  compromise possible?

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