“Death and Taxes”, Two Certainties in Life: Inspire Thoughts on Educational Change

I have spent over 20 years in the volunteer fire service in Canada. During this time I have come to know many excellent, committed, inspiring individuals who have provided me with a wealth of knowledge about the science of fire suppression and who have been instrumental to my development as a person. Reflecting upon the way that I react to change of late, in the face of a plethora of change that I am facing in my vocation as a teacher called to mind a nugget of truth that a very wise colleague of mine in the fire service taught me. Whenever asked what he knew for certain this man, with over fifty years of voluntary fire service to his fellow citizens, a veteran of the Second World War and one of the most gentle human beings I have ever know always responded with, “Death and Taxes!” To this list I would now offer a third constant in his mantra – change.

It is not only in my vocation that change is often viewed with skepticism it also permeates my avocation – as the old saying often goes regarding the implementation of new ideas in the fire service, “100 years of tradition unhindered by progress.” It was in pondering this notion, on my drive back from a recent curriculum review day that I began examining how I react to change and the stress that it places an individual under. Before I share these thoughts let me preface them by saying that it interesting that in both instances, the fire service and education there is a similar dichotomy that individuals in either calling can get caught in. On one side is a group that views change with at best, suspicion, at worst, outright hostility; on the other side is the group that likes to push boundaries, examine things from new perspectives, and turn processes on their end to see if they can be improved upon. Again these are both ends of the spectrum. I am fortunate that in  these two worlds I get to experience what I consider to be a healthy balance of both.

I am discovering that in the process of adopting  change in these realms; in all instances for what someone(s) has/have determined to be a better or improved practice, that I travel through a process that I have come to think of as a version of the grieving process; and perhaps it is a sort of grieving process as one practice is laid to rest and another is born.

Step 1: Denial: This usually happens very early on in the process of the unveiling of a new direction, policy or Standard Operating Guideline. It is that moment when the hair on my neck stands up, breathing becomes restricted, the stare of incredulity imposes itself on my countenance and I think to my self, “…no way did you just say that!” unfortunately for me I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve and when this moment hits most around me are keenly aware of it.

Step 2: Frustration/reticence: The next step my process seems to be an initial desire to dismiss the new strategum as something that is unnecessary – I often find myself dwelling on how the new item does not fit with the way that I/we do or have done things and that, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” What is really happening during this stage is that I am in the process of challenging the new idea – turning it over in my mind to try to find the flaws which I am sure exist. The length of time that I find myself in this stage of the process varies with the degree of difficulty that I anticipate in the implementation of the new process within my current practice and how closely the item aligns with my pedagogical philosophy.

Step 3: Acceptance: It is at this point that I have turned the new material on its head and decided one of two things – it is something that has merit and I will find a way to make it work – in other words, after allowing things to gel I begin to adopt the process whole heartedly. Or, I resign myself to the fact that this is the current direction that I am being given and it is time to buck up and get it done. It should be noted that very often in both arenas the decision is one  that has been handed down and is not really up for further discussion other than to figure out how to make the theory or directive a practice. Happily in most, not all cases the integration of the new element works out and the former, adoption, scenario plays out.

Step 4: Actively Advocating/Collaborating: It is at this stage, with as I said most new processes, that I attempt to inculcate the practice or directive as smoothly as possible in the daily running of my classroom. It is at this point that I seek out other teachers to work or collaborate with. I attempt to share ongoing reflections and tricks that I discover that seem to allow me to adapt my teaching or firefighting to the new  direction that we are moving in. I also, when appropriate, seek out other teachers who are more experienced with the matter at hand and solicit help from or offer to collaborate with them to better understand or develop the policy or practice.

You, the reader, at this point may be thinking, “thanks again for the obvious!” But I write this piece to reflect on my method of coming to terms with new directions in the field of education and by being more aware of where I am in the process so that I can reach the final stages of the process more quickly so that I return to a positive mindset and as a result greater productivity more quickly.

So, how do you deal with changes to your vocation or avocation?

Published in: on December 7, 2011 at 12:44 am  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. There is always the quality of the presenter to be honestly considered . Where do the new ideas come from ?

  2. The changes that I was reflecting upon are those that are handed down through the administrative chain within the occupation. I was thinking of those that are, for lack of a better phrase, a done deal – ones that we are often going to implement as opposed to those that are being discussed and debated.

    And I would not argue that in any profession that there are times when it is not the what but the how that is often the source of greater consternation.

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