Tag Archives: invisible

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.


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.


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

Some Thoughts About Labor on Labor Day

Today is Labor Day, most often referred to as the unofficial end of summer.  On Friday morning when I asked my students what they knew about our upcoming holiday, they were stumped.  I even heard a comment or two saying, “My mom said she doesn’t know what Labor Day is.”  I did a bit of double-checking my own understanding of Labor Day and its history and we revisited the concept of Labor Day before the students left for the day.  We talked about labor and the ways other people’s labor helps us and how our labor helps others.  We also talked about the fact that not everyone gets the day off from work on Labor Day.

Today was not an official work day for me, and while I enjoyed my Labor Day holiday I was also thinking about labor and what that means in my work as a Writing Project director and educator.  Teachers often get a bad rap about their summers off and short work days based on the hours that students are physically present.  And yet, outside of those hours spent directly with students there is a lot of labor going on.  This invisible labor–the work of planning, preparation, communicating, collaborating, researching–frequently is not seen as work at all.  I understand that this work is not physical, backbreaking labor and yet without it the quality and effectiveness of our profession is diminished.

And I’m often reminded that I make a choice to work beyond my official work hours, and I admit that much of the work I do is a labor of love.  I love creating spaces for learning and working out ways to support the learners that walk through my doors.  But I also spend time doing things that are expected that I don’t love–preparing for standardized testing, attending meeting after meeting after meeting, writing and preparing report cards–but I do those things too.

I’m interested in the role that invisible labor plays in our society.  I am also wondering how labor is viewed depending on your point of view.  Here’s an example that comes to mind: some people in my neighborhood pay a gardener to mow their lawns and keep their yards trimmed and healthy, other people do their own yard work–often less frequently than the gardeners. Clearly the paid gardeners’ labor is acknowledged–they charge a fee and make their living doing yard maintenance. What about those who do their own yard work?  Is their labor considered a hobby?  A chore?  What role does it play in our economy?  Does the fact that some people do their own yard work somehow diminish the importance or skill required of professional gardeners?

What invisible labor do you take for granted?  Whose labor is diminished because it seems like work anyone can do?  What invisible labor do you provide?  What do you wish others knew about your work?

Hope you all had a happy Labor Day, especially if you had to work today!