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Mop Bucket Philosophy: Insights from the custodian

Jeremy Schurr is the head engineer at Brookview Elementary. He often shares his thoughtful observations and ideas with his Brookview colleagues and district leaders and we thought you'd enjoy them as well!

"There is no better than adversity.  Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance next time."- Malcolm X

Quite a few months back, I spotted a copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X in a collection of books to borrow in the staff lounge here at Brookview.  It was a book I had never read, partially since I thought I already knew what it was about.  I grabbed it, and the recent cold weather and the hibernation it urges offered me time to read.

The turning point in the book had a lot to do with the power of literacy.  The lack of voice, opportunity, and hope which landed Malcolm in prison, was studied and reassessed following encouragement by a fellow inmate, and correspondences with his brother.  Starting with "Aardvark," he first devoured the dictionary, and by the end of his term, he was comparing the works of diverse philosophers.  It was ironic that it was prison that offered the time and resources he needed to become enlightened, the very things not offered to him as a young person before incarceration.

I recently went through the building cleaning "touch points." I came across students reading to themselves, to their teachers, or other staff.  It made me think about all the factors that have to happen to create that environment.

Here at Brookview, I am the first one in the building, I turn on the lights, check the boilers, try to make sure the physical environment is right for learning.  Shortly after I arrive, food is delivered.  The Adventure Club staff preps for the students arriving early.  The Kitchen Manager starts to prepare for breakfast and lunch.  Teachers trickle in making copies and plans for the day. Office staff respond to emails and phone calls that have been generated overnight, and make sure the schedule is workable for the day.  Bus drivers pick up the kids, and drop them off to Paraprofessionals waiting for them outside the building...… Meanwhile, the Administration works to make sure that we have the resources to pull this all off.  The community sees the value, and offers the financial means.  A lot needs to go right in order for that first grader to have a book in their hands, and space, time, and ability to read it.

There is a lot of competing information that highlights how divided we are.  The pandemic and the social distancing that its management required, made the social fault lines even more defined.  Or did it?  As we adapt, and slowly filter the students back into their learning environments, it is clear that the work done in the interim required the same creative and innovative thinking that was used to care for the students prior to the pandemic.  We are all cleverly intertwined, and dependent on each other for success.  The obstacles and challenges don't fray the cord, they strengthen it.

Lights out in the penitentiary was 10 p.m.  Malcolm X would then lay on the floor and use the little light that crept under his door from the hall to read.  Every 58 minutes when he heard the guards footsteps he would rush back to his bed, and repeat this every hour until long into the night.  Maybe, our work is the light under the door, which helps encourages curiosity. The coordinated work we do, doesn't just create the conditions conducive for reading, but for the empowerment which results.

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