Reframing Change | Steve Barkley

Reframing Change

I recently connected with Heather Lyon, an Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction, and Technology for a suburban school district in Western New York and the author of Engagement is Not a Unicorn (It’s a Narwhal).  Heather kindly shared the following thoughts on how we perceive CHANGE. She presents a valuable framework for understanding the importance of coaching from a teacher’s agenda around desired student learning outcomes rather than the implementation of a “required” program.

Change Has a Bad Rap – Heather Lyon

If I were to ask you if you liked change, most of you would resoundingly say “NO!” But, in fact, that’s not really true. I’m not calling you a liar; I’m saying that the idea of change has a bad rap.

When people hear about change, there is a mindset of uncertainty and discomfort; when people want change, however, there is a mindset of desire and longing (in which case the word change could be synonymous with “improvements”). In fact, change is often very much wanted and valued. I am so glad that my children have changed over time. When they were born, they were helpless. At the ages of 14, 12, and 10, they sometimes act like they are helpless, but they have changed so much from when they were first born and that is a good thing. You know what else? I have changed over time too. I am so glad that I have changed as a driver since I was 16 and first learning. When I started this job, I didn’t know very much about my district. Thank goodness that has changed. See, change isn’t always bad. Think about it, if I were to ask you, “Tell me three things you wish you could change about where you work to make things even better than they are now” the challenge would not be coming up with three things, it would be narrowing down to which three things.

So why do we have negative associations with change? It’s because when we think of change, we think about it in the context of something being done to us rather than something being done with us or because of us. It’s not the change that bothers us, it’s the lack of control. Teachers, in my experience, are people who like to be in control. We want to decide our curriculum, our instruction, our assessments. We want to choose our students, our classroom, our textbooks. If we could control the weather, we’d want to do that too so that our rooms were always comfortable even in the heat of the summer and fall or the chills of winter and spring. Yup, it’s not the change that’s the problem, it’s that we so often feel powerless in the change.

I think this is why when we are asked to do new things (regardless of if it was something that we agreed to or had thrust upon us) we say things like, “I feel like I’m in my first year all over again.” This is a comment that has been uttered by many teachers as instruction went into virtual mode—a change that was certainly thrust upon us. Without question, teaching virtually for most is a first. However, if you are not in your very first year of teaching, you have access to a wealth of experiences and knowledge that you lacked in your very first year. Among other challenges, what makes your literal first year hard is that you don’t know others who you can ask for help. You are focusing on everything all at once from learning how to take attendance to learning how to assess standards to making a call home for the first time. There is probably nothing that’s anywhere close to that feeling once you’ve gotten past your first year no matter how new a program or standards are to you (or that you’re teaching virtually for the first time). At least you have some friends, can find the copier, and know where to get your coffee.

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I think at the heart of the statement “I feel like I’m in my first year…” is the feeling of being the first learner, meaning you’re doing something that is unfamiliar to you. This is not a bad thing at all except that when you’re the first learner AND the person who is the teacher of learners, that can feel really uncomfortable. After all, it’s hard to teach others to do something when you’re not sure what you’re doing (please see my blog post “First is the Worst” to read more about this).

That said, I know that there are countless changes happening wherever you are. In fact, there are probably even more than you personally know. We can all agree that these changes make it both an exciting time and a time for some trepidation.

With that, I’m going to share a great video that George Couros shared at a PD that I attended. I hope that this 59 second video, “Girl Gives Herself a Pep Talk For Ski Jump,” helps you remember that the scary part of change is the start…and once you get started, the outcome can be even better than you expected!!

Thank you, Heather.

You can connect with Heather here.

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