In January I began a deep dive in Elena Aguilar’s Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators and the accompanying workbook. I hope to share some of my reflections as I build daily habits to strength my own resilience and support that growth in others. Aguilar outlines a habit and a disposition for each month of the year. Follow along as I reflect on each month’s key ideas.
April’s habit is to ride the waves of change and the disposition is perseverance.
“The range of experiences we have with change can be seen as a continuum that extends from defensiveness on one end to leadership on the other. When we are defensive about change, we are focused on mitigating its disturbance in our lives; when we are leading change, we are inviting the turbulence.” (Onward, p. 268)
I love this quote as an introduction to change. In my 22 years in education, I can remember changes that I was defensive about (budget cuts, friends moving on to other job opportunities, retiring mentors) and changes that brought a welcome element of turbulence into my life (choosing to change jobs, accepting new responsibilities, finding new mentors). I love change when I am leading it. I respect and support change led by others when I understand the purpose, and am clear on the message.
While I am a creature of habit and I love my routines, the older I get, the more I can roll with the changes that come my way, whether planned or unexpected. As I watch some of my colleagues struggle and fight their way through change, I am reminded of Aguilar’s message, and really the entire point of her book and my deeper study of it – we need to be more resilient. Change is not going away. The more resilient we are, the less change affects us negatively. Spring often brings changes to educational settings and this particular spring is full of change in my current context.
Aguilar’s reminder to identify the spheres of influence in your life is valuable. I also love this essential question:
Where do I want to put my energy?
I find that when others begin to stress out about change around me, I have two choices. I can jump on their complaining, defensive bandwagon, making myself miserable in the process, or I can accept that change is inevitable and work to communicate the purpose of the change and the power we have within it. I can also follow Aguilar’s advice and encourage others to do the same:
- Slow down
- Evaluate and analyze the situation
- Use your energy where it counts
- Be open to outcomes
This advice is so important. Beginning with a slow down allows us to breathe, rest, and wait for our initial feelings of hurt, anger, and stress to dissipate. Getting clear on what you know and what you still need to know is important. So often, we jump to conclusions without all of the correct information. Using energy where it counts is how we can retain our resiliency. In my younger years, I wasted too much energy spinning around with stress over things beyond my sphere of influence, and not making enough of an impact in the areas where did have influence. Being open to outcomes also gives us permission to choose where, when, and how we accept change, fight change, or make a different choice.
I have recently taken up a fight against a change with which I disagree. In the President’s recent budget proposal, he has eliminate funding for a variety of educational programs, including Title II. I have overseen the Title II budget in my current district for the last two years, and in my previous district, for four years. Title II supports teacher recruitment and hiring, new teacher induction, teacher leadership development, and transformational school leadership by supporting administrators. I am very passionate about the value that Title II brings to our work. I have made a choice to fight this budget cut by advocating for Title II at the federal level. Instead of running around stressed out about the possible cuts within my district, I am reaching out to my elected representatives to share with them how we use Title II, how it impacts our staff and students, and why I encourage them to vote to continue to fund Title II. I have written emails, made calls, and participate in a Twitter storm (see #TitleIIA). I see this as a resilient way to fight a change that I disagree with, in a concerted effort where I feel that my energy is being well-used.
As I continue to reflect on this chapter, I appreciate that Aguilar discusses that change often brings about fear and learning. One of the realizations she coaches a new principal to in the chapter is that change, especially one that involves long-held personal beliefs, takes time… as in years! This is a hard pill to swallow, especially for an educator like me who has such a sense of urgency to support all of the students who are not being successful in our current system. Aguilar addresses this as she writes about patience as an emotion and a skill, one that we can practice and develop. This is something that I continue to work on!
The disposition of perseverance fits so well with the habit of riding the wave of change. It’s easy to persevere through something you choose to do, such as as welcome new job change. It’s much more challenging to persevere through a change you didn’t choose or welcome, and one that brings fear and uncertainty. This is why building up resiliency is so important.
Posts in the Building Resilience series: