The Quandary of the Invisible

I’ve wrestled with this before…and yet, solutions are as invisible as the issue itself.  How do we value and acknowledge what we can’t see?

On a windy day, we can see air.  It moves flags and leaves and kites and pennants.  We see it because we recognize that the movement means the wind is blowing, air is moving.

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But when the air is still, we don’t notice the wind and the air becomes invisible, something we no longer notice or pay attention to.  Work can be like that too.  And so can learning.

We notice when someone is standing in the front of the classroom delivering instruction–that looks like work. We notice when someone leads a workshop, guiding teachers forward with their learning. But there’s so much work that is invisible to others.

We can see learning when students complete assignments, answer questions, lead discussions…  But when that notebook is blank, when the assignment doesn’t get turned in, when the student fidgets with the shoelace instead of answering a question or contributing a comment, an absence of learning is often inferred.

In those moments when I get to talk to a student individually, having a casual conversation about a topic we’ve been learning about, I can sometimes recognize what was previously invisible to me. There’s more to learning than completing an assignment or answering a question. Just like there is more to work than punching the time clock or attending a meeting.

Behind every workshop, every lesson, every assignment or project are hours of invisible work. There is the planning and the thinking behind the planning. And behind that there is often reading and research, collaboration–sometimes in the form of a conversation over coffee or lunch, the gathering and production of materials…and more.  And behind that, there are the phone calls, emails, and meetings that initiate the workshop planning.  So much of the work we do is invisible to others and it’s easy to dismiss what we can’t see.

The trunk of a tree doesn’t sway in the breeze…but that doesn’t mean that the air is not there.

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So how do we acknowledge, measure, and value what we can’t see?

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