Change is a funny concept. I have always thought of myself as someone who welcomes change: I have been someone who tries to be open minded and have the ability to see multiple sides of an argument; I have tried to change roles and responsibilities in my career or taken on some new ventures both inside and outside of education every once in a while to keep things fresh; and I spent two years in grad school researching, taking, and reflecting on multiple personality, learning style, communication and brain dominance self-assessments. All of these were done, personally to gain an better understanding of myself, but in terms of the program in order to then become a more effective as a leader in my school or organization (ie- staff developer, change consultant, department chair, principal, or overall just a better teacher). Heck, just two weeks ago I wrote about the importance of a leader empowering his/her employees when taking on the change process. While all the structures, processes, and well thought out plans are an absolute MUST for effective change, not be forgotten is the basic emotional manner in which we, as humans, react to and deal with change.
I am about to enter my sixth year teaching at the high school (12th overall in the district), and have had a relatively smooth, yet sometimes challenging, transition from MS Language Arts to Staff Development to the 10th and 12th grade classrooms. I just finished my 5th year teaching the same 10th and 12th grade curriculums. While I did jump from some honors level classes to some academic level classes, the overall focus and content of the courses has stayed relatively the same. Spending a lot of time in the same content is always a double edged sword: on one hand you become and ‘expert’ in what you are teaching and delve into depths and are able to pull in outside resources that completely enrich the students’ learning experiences; on the other hand it becomes easy to sort of hit autopilot at some point, and you then find yourself fighting complacency and, in some cases, boredom.
With all of this in mind, our district has just recently approved a new course, the College Board AP 11th Grade English Language and Composition. As a department we are excited on 2 fronts: it is a nice challenge for our 11th graders and can help bridge the gap to our 12th Grade AP English Literature and Composition course; it will provide a style and type of writing and analysis to our students that we admittedly do not do enough of in our honors and academic curricula. At the request of a colleague, I am now going to be spending my summer researching, reading, and writing this course. While I am at the same time both very excited yet a bit overwhelmed, the one aspect to this new challenge that I may have not thought completely through is that it is change, and yes, while constant, is not always easy.
I came to school this morning to begin my work on the AP course and then the immensity of the task began to settle in a bit. As I sit here and use this blog post as my excuse to further avoid working on the AP course, I am feeling like it is that first day of class in college or grad school, when I would get the syllabus and think, when in the world will I get all of this done?? While I know that I chose this, that I’ll get it worked out, and that it will be good for me, (cliches aside) there are still those underlying thoughts of I could have just stayed in the same courses and enjoyed a school free summer and a not so busy 2011-2012 year…why why why??? running through my mind.
While the why in all of this comes somewhere out of M. Scott Peck’s “The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers,” it is more the how do I deal with completing this task that is the more important question. I know my gut reaction is to, at first, avoid starting new tasks, especially ones that require some major change or work, yet most of the time I still go, consciously mind you, through that initial stage (ie- the rambling rant of this blog post). On the flip side though, because I do know that is my how I deal with change, now that I have successfully completed this post I will be able to begin the task at hand and that my students next year will walk into an AP English Language and Composition class that is planned out and ready to roll.
What I find fascinating is that the change I am talking about here is not, in the grad scheme of it all, a huge, earth-shattering one. I am not completely changing roles, being relocated, going through a divorce or some type of personal tragedy, or losing my job and having to figure out ‘what’s next’? If I really think about it my move from teaching to being a staff developer a few years back was bigger. Yet even a change this small still causes some level of anxiety and a reaction that can either impede or speed up its process. In all cases change is something we all internalize and deal with in different manners, both good and bad (just as Dilbert). It is a constant and often difficult challenge for leaders at all levels to implement large scale change, as they could be dealing with the reactions of not just 1, but 100-1,000+ employees. This is why I truly believe that change is a funny concept; it is something we at times choose to take on, are always are forced to deal with, and yet can struggle to adapt to successfully.