Reflections from a Former Council Moderator

Council’s next chapter is always one worth reading. I miss that soft thrill of watching the annual turnover meeting when old leadership quietly exits stage left. The auditorium feels a little emptier and a little fuller. Summer is near. No sleep deprivation, no sniffles and coughs, just an optimistic anthology of old and new voices with a propensity for overworking themselves… but we’ll worry about that after finals! Admittedly, I was not the most rested and collected leader. To this day, I could not tell you why my peers trusted me to serve as our Dresden Board rep, then our PR person, and finally moderator. I missed our 2016 back-to-school retreat after burning out from summer camp and catching a viral double ear infection. For my congested “Welcome Back” speech, I could barely hear my own pop culture references that gave my infamous watermelon class of 2017 some second-hand embarrassment. I’m not sure my jokes have gotten any funnier now that I’m a high school English teacher.

I’m currently teaching an interdisciplinary “Voices of Protest” unit where students study a revolutionary human, research their revolution’s context, and learn effective forms of protest and persuasion. I’ll share one visionary’s idea that has been on my mind since I was asked to reflect on Council’s legacy:
“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” -Alice Walker

Remember that Council has its power for a reason! Look to Linda Addante and Hal Bourne for pearls from past pushback. I implore you to recognize that Council’s avenue for action is a tremendous gift. In other districts, changemaking looks like FreeForm Friday: nobody stops to listen for more than a few minutes because you’re just filling a void with a voice that nobody asked to hear.

Be bold. Maintain Council’s momentum. P = mv; ‘Power’ = motions*voices. But Council’s impact is hardly linear, so think creatively about systemic change you’d like to see at Hanover. Don’t let a brilliantly disruptive idea ferment via ad-hoc deferral. Even something as necessary as Lilly Cadow’s gender inclusivity motion was met with some initial criticism. On the gorgeous new Council website, I see that some students recently went to a faculty meeting to advocate for respecting pronouns. That’s fabulous news. How might Council use its power to expand the inclusivity motion? What can Council do to inculcate a more equitable and supportive school culture, particularly for marginalized students? Are there
any community partnerships to explore? If  anything is “in your way” right now, how can you lift yourselves up to fly in another direction?

“Council doesn’t do anything!”
“We don’t need Council.”
“There should be a Faculty Senate…”

I’ve heard the typical complaints. I’m sure you’ve all heard the same criticism and then some. Thank you for pushing through the turbulence these past few years. The work you do matters. I’ve learned a great deal from members who graciously return to serve on Council time and time again. On rare occasions, you might find yourself too stunned to speak when someone launches a microaggression onto the floor. Luckily, Lynn Ceplikas will offer booming protection: “ExCUSE me. DeCORum.” And all will be well.

I should mention that most former Council members are happy to listen to your half-baked ideas. I have been delighted to receive messages about Council hubbub from Sage, Ian, Colm, and Aisling. Sometimes you have to hit the secret moderator panic button, tap the gavel, and call for a brief recess to reset. If I had a time machine, I would go back and ensure the Council experience was more enjoyable for all involved.

As Jenny Chambers would warn us in Footnotes, “Hanover High is a pressure cooker! You have to rest!!” Council is a sprint and a marathon.

Sometimes I wonder if the slow but steady democratic process clouds perceptions of Council’s purpose. One lingering thought — although I haven’t been to Council in years — would be that Council’s proclivity for Robert’s Rules of Order and sticking too close to a script felt limiting. Sometimes the strongest ideas were born in what I first saw Melanie Subbiah use: an unmoderated caucus. Unfortunately, I tended to lead Council sessions through speaker list after speaker list, occasionally forgetting to request dissenting opinions. The system worked for intimate school board sessions, but I did Council a disservice by making members sit through rote listening sessions.

Why didn’t I invite more guest speakers?

How could we have decentered the leadership table and amplified newer voices? Where were my chalk talks, my exit slips, or my jigsaw stations to brainstorm solutions? My students would be totally checked out by year’s end if I taught my English classes the way I led Council. Your procedures get the job done, but I hope you will consider loosening up the rigid meeting procedures whenever the executive committee agrees that an open discussion could be worthwhile. Bring back notes and new business if you haven’t already done so!

When in doubt…forget about the bylaws, the school board, and the bickering anti-Council buzz. Ask yourselves: if you had no limitations, then what would you change?

I hope that Council’s next generations will continue to make space for tough conversations and be responsive to community input. Congratulations to the 50th cycle of leaders. Here’s to 50 more!


*This article was first printed in a special edition of the Broadside that celebrated Council’s 50th Anniversary.

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