Change and Resilience

As a staff, we’ve been doing a book study on Onward by Elena Aguilera. This month’s chapter has to do with change and how we handle it…from the things we can completely control (how we plan, how neat (or not) our classrooms or offices are, how we react to situations that arise throughout the day) to the things we don’t have any say in at all (choices made by others, both those on our behalf and those that have nothing to do with us directly).

I binged a little on BrenĂ© Brown’s Netflix special yesterday (fine, I watched it three times in a row) and it tied really well to this month’s chapter. She talks a lot about being vulnerable, putting ourselves out there and taking risks both personally and professionally. Accepting and handling change is a big piece of “Daring Greatly.” As I listened to her, I realized that so much of what I’ve chosen to do in my job, and in my life beyond it, has been daring greatly. I got into the arena. I got bloody and hurt. I felt humiliation created by my own mistakes and by the criticism of others…especially those who just don’t understand. They seem to have the most to say. She said a couple of things that really hit home:

“If you are not in the arena getting your ass kicked daily, I am not interested in your feedback about my work.”

“You cannot take criticism and feedback from people who are not being brave in their lives.”

Both of these resonated with me so much as I was reading April’s Onward chapter too. So often I’ve encountered the “backfire effect” Aguilera speaks of, and having to determine which fight is the good fight. I’ve rode the wave of change all year, and at times, I’ve wondered if I’m resilient or confident enough for this work at all.

As educators, we’ve all had to think of change as opportunity at some point in our careers. For some it was a question of what else is out there. For others, it was escaping somewhere that simply wasn’t a good fit. I knew in my gut my first year of teaching that where I was wasn’t where I was supposed to be. I desperately wanted it to be. I adored my kids, and loved that I was seen as a leader in our building. I still had a lot to learn about teaching and the district I was in offered fabulous professional development opportunities. But I knew in my gut once things got rolling that it wasn’t where I was meant to be forever. I told myself I’d stick it out three years, and then if I still felt the same, I’d at least have three years of experience under my belt. And the second year, I still knew…and the third, the Universe screamed at me that I needed to listen now… And my current school was just in the beginning stages of being “born.” And between the people and the ideas, I knew I found my home.

I think back to when my current role became an opportunity for me. I loved being a teacher. I loved my kids and the community we created and I was unsure about how it would go…whether I’d earned the right to be in this role at all. I’d already gone to half-time in the classroom, teaching language arts and math, spending afternoons trying to find quiet space in our building for gifted testing and paperwork, developing presentations on NWEA MAP testing and how to use it with gifted students and a few other beginning level presentations, and going to district level GT meetings. I’d ended up also being another available body when kids needed breaks outside of the classroom or somewhere else to work, or parents needed to talk, or teachers needed a break or coverage when they couldn’t come in or had to leave early. But I was still very much a part of my classroom. Going from full-time teacher to half-teacher-half-GT hadn’t been too hard. I’d asked how I could impact things on a larger scale and this was a need that was available to fill.

It wasn’t a big change for the kids, since I was still in the classroom a lot of the time when I wasn’t testing someone or in a meeting. They could ask questions of me and I was still a resource for them even if I wasn’t teaching the lesson. I tried to stay out of lessons though–there was a perfectly capable teacher in the room that wasn’t me.

I remember being excited about the possibilities it held. I’d get to create my job description because the wonderful, brilliant woman who held the position before I would had only held it a short time before going back into the classroom–it hadn’t gotten fleshed out completely yet. I remember making lists of things that this role COULD entail… And I remember thinking about how I’d tell the kids I was moving into this role, how to word it so they understood that I wouldn’t be in our classroom next year–but still in the building down the hall a bit. And I remember how most responded “Eh…ok.” and how one in particular went to the back of the room, sobbing, refusing to come out. I remember texting her mother “I think I broke your daughter…” And I remember how all the happiness and excitement I felt about the change drained away when I realized that I would lose that part of my identity.

This time of year I wrestle with how my role should change. I’m confronted with others who tell me what they think I ought to have been doing all year, comments from parents and others outside about what they wish my role involved, as well as my own hopes and dreams for it. I was talking with one of our kids and noted that I got to create my own job description pretty much–he thought that was pretty cool. So do I. I still have so much to learn, both about gifted education and administration, and so many ways this role can grow and change. I keep seeking out information as I find I need it, clarification so that I can make decisions that will impact others, and support as I continue to grow. Even the lobster looks to the rocks for support after outgrowing one shell while the next develops.

“If we find a way to coast through tumultuous moments, if we cultivate trust in others and in uncertainty, and if we stay calm and focused, we might experience grace and joy while we’re riding the waves of change. We might even find that we are drawn to change when we feel confident in our ability to navigate its waters, and that we are happier and more resilient when we return to dry land. ” – Aguilar, Elena. Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators (Kindle Locations 6292-6295). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

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