Facing Change. Be the Change.

“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive, but those who can best manage change.”

Charles Darwin

When I am in the rooms leading workshops the first question I ask is, “What are your current most pressing challenges?” And almost every participant will point to the rapidly changing environment in our schools and classrooms and the resulting feeling of overwhelm and ineffectiveness.

Our classrooms have changed. Our students have changed.  We recognize the need to focus on wellness and mental health. We understand the importance of social-emotional learning and cultivating emotional intelligence in our students.  We have an ever-increasing awareness of the effects of trauma and poverty on learning.  We learn new technologies and innovations to deliver into our schools and classrooms.

How Are We Doing It Differently?

However, a piece I believe is underemphasized and under-implemented is cultivating, in our teachers and school leadership, the personal and cultural-wide tools needed to manage this exponential tide of change best.   We can bring to the table a myriad of strategies, tools, lesson plans, and policies – but if we are not providing our teachers, staff and school leaders with support tools and a culture that embraces change, implementation falls flat.

How can we empower educators to embrace change and to feel confident in the face of today’s current challenges?  

My coach and Mentor, Sherry Yellin has written an excellent book called “Unforgettable Leadership.”  Focusing on an understanding of how our brains work she discusses the essential qualities workplace cultures must embrace to encourage individuals in the face of change. These include:

  • Encouraging innovation, novelty, and creativity.
  • Empowering through choice and voice.  In other words, involvement equals commitment.
  • Creating opportunities for communication, interaction and community building.

There is a statement I believe we are all familiar with, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”  As our students change, as the world changes, how are we as educators “doing it differently?”  

Create Change Culture

I believe we are doing many things differently. We have created high awareness around the need to bring wellness, well-being and mental health to the forefront. We have begun to implement fabulous research-based tools and strategies into many of our classrooms.

But I would argue this is not enough. We must shift the conversation to wellness for all, broaden our perspective from one-off professional days to daily support, and create school-wide cultures where:

  • every member is given a voice to be a part of the conversation from students to administration,
  • we are encouraging solution-oriented mindset, innovation, and creativity,
  • relationships, interaction, and community building are a priority,
  • and most importantly providing programs that focus on the wellness and well-being of every individual including our teachers, staff, and administrators.

It Starts with You

Begin building your school culture of wellness and mental health from the ground up. Here are four ideas to support cultural change in your classroom and building:

  1. Start a Wellness Committee including representation from administration, staff, teachers, and students.  Use this meeting time to brainstorm ideas for school-wide for assembly, special days and daily implementation of tools and strategies.
  2. Have your class write a Community Wellness Vision. Have the committee write a Building-Wide Wellness Vision.
  3. Create tech-free zones, tech-free times or tech-free days school-wide.
  4. Implement after-school yoga and meditation for teachers and staff.  Is there a teacher or staff member who would like to lead yoga classes or teach meditation?

As Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”