I opened up the NYT on line today and randomly chose an editorial to peruse. I landed on one that brought up a conundrum that is present in several ways in my life. David Brooks writes about what makes thick and thin institutions. Thin are those that after you leave, you may or may not stay connected with. Thick are the ones that no matter the distance and time, you are connected to others from that institution in ways hard to explain. When I think about the perfect example, good summer camps, NOLS courses, and spring break roads trips come to mind.
Both of my children are about to make a big transition. One is graduating from college. The other is likely going to transfer to a new college or university. I think this thick and thin is central to both of them right now. Their college experience did not provide them with anything thick. They love their professors, they are challenged by what they are learning, they like the students around them, and neither of them is unhappy with their experience. I keep wondering what the driving force is behind the transfer and behind my daughter’s enthusiasm for getting out of here. I think it is because there is nothing thick; they have wanted something strong, solid, and thick to hold on to and instead have found something too thin to feel safe.
One description of the dichotomy really stuck with me.
“In other words, thin institutions tend to see themselves horizontally. People are members for mutual benefit. Thick organizations often see themselves on a vertical axis. People are members so they can collectively serve the same higher good.
In the former, there’s an ever-present utilitarian calculus — Is this working for me? Am I getting more out than I’m putting in? — that creates a distance between people and the organization. In the latter, there’s an intimacy and identity borne out of common love. Think of a bunch of teachers watching a student shine onstage or a bunch of engineers adoring the same elegant solution.”
When I translate this to my school and my classroom, I can see through the thinness. And I have no idea how to go about making it thick. I know part of it is leadership at a level that I cannot affect. But how can I make my classroom thick? I am going to sit on that today.