What’s Your “Better”? Learning How To Move With Change

The last month and a half has been a sea of constant change. I recently re-read Who Moved My Cheese? by Dr. Spencer Johnson. It’s my go to read when I’m forced into unexpected and unwanted change. It reminds me to be adaptable. The book is a simple, short story that teaches lessons about coping with change by following the experiences of four characters that are facing a dramatic change. The three most important principles are:

  1. Anticipate change
  2. Adapt to change quickly
  3. Enjoy change

As I reflect on those three principles, I make comparisons between them and how we, as educators, have responded to the Covid-19 crisis. Who Moved My Cheese? is not a perfect allegory for what is happening now. There is no way we could have practiced principle 1 and anticipated this particular change. Even those who are adept at recognizing impending change could not have predicted the circumstances in which we currently find ourselves.

While we may not have mastered principle 1, we certainly succeeded with principle 2. Once the change happened, we educators adapted quickly. We followed the same pattern as the mouse characters in the story. The situation changed, so we decided to change. Many of us did it with less than 36 hours notice. In an incredibly short amount of time, educators adapted to the new expectations for teaching. And as the expectations keep changing, we continue to adapt quickly. We are rocking principle 2.

Principle 3: Enjoy change, is more challenging. “Enjoy” the change is too lofty an expectation for pandemic teaching. This is a temporary situation and every educator is anticipating the day they get back to their classrooms and students. Thankfully, permanent enjoyment is not required.

However, it’s not too optimistic to enjoy aspects of the change, while hating the change itself. I have discovered there are a few things happening in my daily practice that I want to continue even when this is over and we are able to get back to our school buildings.

I’m an instructional coach so I don’t have my own class. However, I do work with several small groups of students. I do reading interventions with some. I also do check-ins with other students as part of our behavior support program. One thing I implemented during school closure is choosing one student per day to mail a note. The notes aren’t lengthy or time consuming. I simply tell them I miss them and I hope they are doing well. Writing and mailing the notes makes me feel connected to my school and students. I have decided this is a form of connection that doesn’t need to stop once school is back in session. I will continue to write daily notes to students once we are back on campus.

My typical workday has changed dramatically. Grade level meetings, one on one coaching sessions, leadership discussions, curriculum planning, and more have been moved to Zoom or by phone. Instead of speeding around my campus all day, I’m now tethered to my computer. It has been overwhelming and I find myself surprisingly exhausted by the end of the day.

Because of this, I am more aware of the new burdens being placed on teachers. I am more thoughtful and considerate of teachers’ mental health.  A question I’ve been asking myself, “Is the task we are about to give teachers urgent enough to justify the extra stress it will place on them right now?”  If the answer is no, I advocate to let it go.

I hope I continue to ask this question even when we return to “normal.” Teachers’ time is valuable and any extra duties placed upon them deserve to be scrutinized for their worth.

While I know I’ve made what I believe to be positive changes, I’m only able to see them from my perspective. I don’t get to see the students check their mail and open the notes I’ve written. I don’t get to observe teachers’ reactions when the load they bear is lightened. But, I have had a front row seat to the changes in my own child’s learning. I’ve seen how the changes made by her teachers have impacted her.

One thing her teachers now do that my daughter truly appreciates is called Monday Connections. Each Monday the teachers email short notes. The notes contain jokes, inspirational messages, and brief descriptions of what is happening in their own lives.  Sometimes, Monday Connections even includes pictures of the teachers with their families.

My daughter looks forward to Monday Connections and tells me she hopes the teachers continue it even when they are learning in person again.  As she explains it, the Monday Connections make her teachers seem more relatable. She believes this increases her motivation and makes her want to work harder for her teachers.

There are so many things about this situation that I can’t wait to end.  I miss my school building and all the amazing humans with whom I share it.  But, using Principle 3 in Who Moved My Cheese?, I’m striving to find small parts of the change to enjoy.  And if I can’t enjoy it, I’ll at least try to learn from it.  In Who Moved My Cheese?, one of the characters realizes the change he dreaded led him to something better. The abrupt change we are experiencing led me to find a few practices that I plan to continue. That’s my “better.”  What’s yours?

What are changes you’ve made to your practice that you plan to continue?

 

Nicole Wolff

I’m a California native. However, I’ve spent my entire career teaching in Arizona public schools, as well as instructing at the university level. My passion for teacher advocacy and support led me to become an Instructional Coach in 2013. I am currently a coach at a K-8 school in Goodyear and love the students and teachers I get to work with every day. I have spent my career actively involved in instructional improvement, chairing many committees including Response to Intervention, Academic Accountability, and Professional Development Committees. I was named Dysart Hero (teacher of the year) in 2012. I was honored to serve as a 2017-18 Arizona Hope Street Teacher Fellow. I earned a Bachelor’s in Elementary Education and a Master’s in Education/ESL from Ottawa University. I am a National Board Certified Teacher. I’m also endorsed as an Early Childhood Specialist, Reading Specialist, and Gifted Specialist. In my free time, I enjoy reading, camping, and spending time with my family.

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