Thursday, September 1, 2011

If Buildings Could Speak: A Final Flood Lesson

                Almost two weeks into the school year, and the flood has receded (pun fully intended) into an increasingly distant memory. Five hundred kids bustling through the building each day helps one focus on more immediate issues. At the same time, the flood recovery holds important lessons about working with those kids.
                When the flood first occurred on August 5, I figured there was no way we would be able to open on the 23rd. I put on a brave face and spouted confidence, but now I can admit to serious doubts. Adding to my frustration was this coming after we’d had to open late last year because of construction. Then we had numerous weather-related interruptions, beginning the second day of school and culminating in two closures because of ice—one of them unprecedented in Dallas. So the thought of a delayed opening had my nerves churning.
                I found myself desperate hoping, willing, praying the recovery would go faster. I begged for constant updates. I kept asking what else could be done. How were the workers going to make sure we opened on time?
                In reality, they were doing everything they could. The damage recovery people had all the machines going and were adjusting them accordingly per multiple measures. The carpentry folks had to adjust depending on the rest of the progress. For example, they couldn’t really do anything about millwork until sheetrock had been repaired and or deemed sufficiently dry. Once the crew could work on things, they put in some amazing hours.
                But I kept wanting the progress to be faster. Thank goodness I couldn’t control things and we had experts guiding us. If we had rushed things, we could have ended up with damage that emerged weeks, months, even years down the road. Rotten wood and sheetrock, warped millwork, mold and mildew, insects—who knows what else? Call it Hurried Building syndrome (apologies to David Elkind, but appropriate for the metaphor).
                We had to create the proper environment and then be patient, allowing the process to develop per its own unique, complex characteristics. Had we not been able to open on August 23, things would have continued to improve until we were ready. And we could have trusted that we would open at the appropriate time.
I’ve said many times that at a great school every nock and cranny has potential as a powerful learning space. In this case, the school building itself has held out some powerful wisdom.

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