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Navigating Change with Resilience: How Educators Can Thrive Amidst the Unexpected

Updated: Jul 6

What's that saying, "The only constant in the world is change"? This is especially true in the world of education. Everyday that you walk into your classroom, you know it's going to be different. Someone is going to be absent, and that will completely change the dynamics of your class for the day. A teacher down the hall may be out, and you may be absorbing students. You may learn at an emergency staff meeting that, effective immediately, all teachers are losing one planning period per week to teach an Encore class. The possibilities are endless.


Quote by Alena Aguilar, "The secret to change is to deal with emotions (our own and those of others) and especially to deal with fear,...Yes, it takes time to deal with emotions, but there is no other option."

These unexpected changes are hard, and over time, they become more difficult to deal with. It's easy, especially at the end of a long school year, to let your emotions get the better of you. By doing this, however, our stress levels stay high, which means cortisol levels stay high. This can lead to all kinds of physical consequences like weight gain, changes in your central nervous system, and cardiovascular complications. (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)


One of my favorite books about change is, Who Moved My Cheese by Dr. Spencer Johnson. This book is simple parable about change. It follows four characters - two mice named Sniff and Scurry, and two "little people" named Hem and Haw - who live in a maze and must find a source of cheese to survive. When the cheese supply suddenly disappears, the characters have vastly different reactions. Two of the characters quickly adapt, while the other two struggle to accept the change. The book uses this metaphor to illustrate how people respond to unexpected changes in their lives, and emphasizes the importance of being adaptable, anticipating shifts, and embracing new opportunities.

A depiction from the book, Who Moved My Cheese, this image shows two mice in a maze and two very angry people screaming in the background.

I read this book with my middle school gifted education students in 2010. Eight years later, I would read essentially the same advice for dealing with unexpected change when I read, Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators. This book has truly become an anchor text for me over the last 6 years, and I find myself going back and rereading specific chapters often. One of those chapters is the one dealing with change. You can ask any of my co-workers. I don't do change well.


The author of Onward, Elena Aguilar, encourages educators to have a "Maybe" attitude when unexpected or unwelcome change finds us. She points her readers to a Chinese proverb. It reads:


"Once upon a time there was a Chinese farmer whose horse ran away. That evening, all of his neighbors came around to commiserate. They said, “We are so sorry to hear your horse has run away. This is most unfortunate.” The farmer said, “Maybe.”


The next day the horse came back bringing seven wild horses with it, and in the evening everybody came back and said, “Oh, isn’t that lucky. What a great turn of events. You now have eight horses!” The farmer again said, “Maybe.”


The following day his son tried to break one of the horses, and while riding it, he was thrown and broke his leg. The neighbors then said, “Oh dear, that’s too bad,” and the farmer responded, “Maybe.”


The next day the conscription officers came around to conscript people into the army, and they rejected his son because he had a broken leg. Again all the neighbors came around and said, “Isn’t that great!” Again, he said, “Maybe.”


The whole process of nature is an integrated process of immense complexity, and it’s really impossible to tell whether anything that happens in it is good or bad — because you never know what will be the consequence of the misfortune; or, you never know what will be the consequences of good fortune.


— Alan Watts


Contemporary image of William Shakespeare. Floating around him are items that represent today's society including apples, books, technology, and notebooks.

The point of this parable is to say that, as humans, we're quick to label something as good or bad (that's step 2 in the Cycle of an Emotion). This labeling can quickly escalate into heightened emotions and a loss of the ability to think rationally. I think Shakespeare said it best, "For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” If we can make it a habit to take a minute or two to breathe and be mindful of our surroundings before we assume something is going to be good or bad, we are better able deal with what is coming our way more effectively. If you haven't read my post on understanding you emotions, you should definitely do that now.


Have you had a recent experience where something happened that you initially thought was terrible, but ended up being okay? Or vice versa? How did you handle that experience? How could having a "Maybe" attitude have helped you?


The next time unwanted or unexpected change comes your way, the following steps will help you be more resilient:

  1. Slow Down!: Tap into your emotions. Acknowledge them, name them, ACCEPT them, and spend a little time exploring them. Give yourself a day or two before taking any action or making a decision.

  2. Evaluate and Analyze the Situation: Ask yourself,

    1. Are there other facts or pieces of information I need to have in order to completely understand the situation? Might there be another perspective to explore? Who could help me with that? What is within my influence? What resources do I have available to me? What might be possible if I challenge this change? What will happen if I sit it out and wait for it to pass?

  3. Use Your Energy Where It Counts: Remember that time is finite and your energy is limited. Ask yourself, "What really matters?" Read my post on harnessing your mental energy.

  4. Be Open to Outcomes: When we approach life with a "Maybe" attitude and an open mind, we are more flexible and adaptable and, therefore, more resilient. This isn't easy because it requires us to manage our uncertainty, which is a shade of fear. Our typical response to fear is to want to keep things the same, which isn't helpful at all when we're dealing with change.


I hope that this third post in the "Resilience" series was helpful to you. Please let me know your thoughts below in the comments.


Title and images created in collaboration with AI using ChatGPT and Ideogram.ai, respectively. All other content was created by the author.




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