The Process of Communicating, Collaborating, and Planning

These past few weeks have definitely required the most consistent work for this course so far this year, in that it has really been composed of keeping up correspondences, making logistical decisions, and locking in people and dates for interviews. I’ve had more success with some people I’ve tried to contact than others, but I think that that’s a good lesson in professional communication—there’s a lot of nuance, it seems, to the timing and phrasing of this kind of communication, especially when I’m approaching people I’ve never met before with a request for them to grant our team an interview. At times, this aspect of the learning has been frustrating, but I also really feel that between my efforts and my team members’, we’re doing a lot of good work. I really enjoy the balance of this class in that people can take on as much as is viable for them, and five different people working semi-independently to accomplish a common goal provides both stabilizing structure and the challenge of individual responsibility. Our communication within our team has increased and become more efficient in proportion to the rapid progress of the workload and urgency due to time constraints: Nate (our adult advisor, for anyone who doesn’t know) pointed out in our virtual meeting today that we’ve been texting in our group more frequently, often to ask questions, work around busy and conflicting schedules, come up with compromises, get second and third opinions, and deal with all of the small obstacles which arise between meetings. Our weekly meetings themselves, I’ve noticed lately, have also evolved from the beginning of our time as a team, when they were structured into isolated accounts by each of us on our week’s work, often followed by or mixed in with some conversation. Now, they’re much more organic. We discuss the state of our work and ongoing process as it comes up and ties into our team members’ work, we plan for the future and address challenges that we’ve been facing and can see arising, and we explore much more connected and relevant next steps.

Another experience that has shaped my learning lately has been conducting an interview, which I did with my French teacher, who is originally from East Germany and has lived in many places and knows many languages. It was scheduled for before break, but we ended up doing it the week immediately following vacation, which I think gave me some more time to prepare myself. My friend was kind enough to man the camera throughout, so that I didn’t have to worry about equipment issues while trying to lead a meaningful conversation (although I worry that although I followed the rule of thirds, the angle is a little distracting). I had to make a decision about background, because my teacher has a really interesting collage behind her desk with a global theme, which fits very well with the theme of our project but which I worried was distracting. However, the alternative was a wall which seemed too clinical and unnatural of a backdrop, so after some brief consultation via text I went with the desk, which seemed like a more natural choice. In fact, as the preparatory instruction at the December retreat emphasized, the entire interview proved to be a series of small choices, some with better results than others. I brought a list of questions and referred to them occasionally, but I ended up mostly trying to avoid them because natural questions arose and in the moment I felt that breaking eye contact to look down at a prepared list would ruin the flow of the conversation. It was hard to try to get the interviewee to speak in sentences that stood alone and didn’t refer to the question which was asked, which I think was pretty natural because in a normal conversation to do so would seem overly formal and stiff, so I think that in going into future interviews this is something I really need to stress. Because of this, it may be harder to use some sections of the interview, but I think that it might actually be used most valuably as a resource for teachers struggling to understand how to interact with ELL and New American students and form meaningful relationships. My teacher is in the unique position of being someone living in the U.S. who isn’t originally from here and whose first language isn’t English, as well as having a lot of contact with international students learning English from the perspective of an instructor, so her input could provide some very effective instruction.

Our work right now is mostly done with January 23 in mind, as that is the next time we will all meet in person as well as a day spent in Burlington and Winooski to conduct interviews with people who have very relevant experiences and knowledge. I contacted a UVM professor I met at a conference over the summer whose work aligns extremely well with our own explorations, and she responded very generously and has also offered to put us in touch with some students of hers. I’m also trying to reach a student I know from Winooski, whom I’ve made contact with before and who I think will be very valuable to our documentary. The next few weeks will mostly entail preparation for this day, as we struggle with the logistics of transportation, scheduling, release forms, etc., but I’m really excited for the experience. I am also working to set up times to meet with some people in government who have unique views on this topic, particularly Rebecca Holcombe, the State Secretary of Education, as a speech she gave this summer on educational equity was actually one of the main factors which inspired me to pursue this topic in the first place.


Featured Image is by Simon Huggins

Clara Lew-Smith

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