“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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Finding the Time Thingy

“When do  you find the time to write?” The question is posed as a colleague and I are ushering our families into the showing of a movie at the local theater. I do not recall the answer that I provided but I am quite certain that it was along the lines of, “Oh you know, I work it in here and there,” accompanied by some self-effacing laughter the conversation turns to the weather, our spouses health, progress of children in school or one of a multitude of those everyday conversation threads that entwine themselves into the brief passage of two people.

While the question and its setting are quite happenstance their result has not been. A number of times this summer, when I have had the opportunity to sit and think – usually while driving between family during our vacation to the Maritimes, I have wondered when I am going to have the time to write and post with anything that resembles regularity? An examination of any of the blogs that I currently work on shows that I tend to only post when I am off of school for the summer. If, as you read this, you feel that perhaps I am exaggerating just a bit for some sort of editorial effect, I would offer in my defense that today is the 04-Nov-11 and this post has not been touched since the 19-Aug-11; driving home for me again the topic of this post – Finding the Time Thingy.

I tell my students that writing is one of the greatest self-indulgences that you can engage in – I have expounded on its cathartic qualities, its ability to allow a writer to reflect upon major or minor occurrences in their life and to, if they choose to share it, build connections to others around the world. While I occassionally assume the pulpit in this fashion with my students it is my own practice that I must seriously begin to examine. I must admit that the allure of writing usually coincides with times when I have much to do and very little time to do any of it. There is no question that I have a full schedule during the school year – though as some of my friends point out – it is a full schedule that is largely a result of my own choices. There is fire practice two evenings a month, two more for station maintenance, six evenings a month out for cadets not to mention about 6 weekends a year that are devoted to exercises and community service, and I play darts every Friday evening at the local legion. There is a third of my evenings and about one weekend a month – though in September and October of this year the only weekend that I had off was the Monday of Thanksgiving weekend. While this may seem like a normal range of activity for someone who values social interaction and wants to be involved in the community it does not reflect the number of nights and weekends that are given over to planning and marking during the school year – which erodes volumes of what others would consider to be disposable or personal time.

I am not complaining, only attempting to provide insight into the situation that I seem to have gotten myself into, as I do enjoy all of the activities that I am involved with; they provide me with a great deal of personal satisfaction – especially as  my son is involved in the Junior Firefighters program and both of my children are members of our Air Cadet Squadron. On the other side of the scales are the parts of my life that I would like to get reacquainted with; these include but are not limited to friends, writing, completing home renovations, my dogs and most importantly my wife. The question becomes how best to achieve some balance between these two competing aspects of my life. I have friends and family who in the past have said to me, “Just say no…” when I indicate that I cannot join them for a different activity or event my question to them has often been to which element or part of my life should I limit or eliminate. If we are, in part, formed and nurtured by these experiences then which parts can one limit or remove and continue on as before. In some instances there are others who could be impacted negatively should I make a decision to become less involved with say cadets or the fire service – do their needs, hopes, or demands get to play a role in decisions regarding what will constitute balance in my life?

Or, perhaps I am looking at this matter from too much of a balance perspective – perhaps balance is not to be found in this situation and what I really have to decide is am I happy with the way that I am now and the way that things are unfolding in the present. If I enjoy being heavily involved in my community, my profession, and all of these other things that contribute to making me who I am perhaps I need to be more accepting of where I am at in life. Perhaps I should simply take greater joy in the time that I do devote to any of the elements or tasks in my life that I do. Be grateful for the time that I do have to write, the time that I do spend with my family, fellow firefighters, friends, cadets and students rather than trying to figure out how to better compartmentalize and streamline my life.

In either case I will probably continue to smile, work in things like writing here and there and maintain the self-effacing laughter – it tends to keep a person “real”.

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