Change is Inevitable, We Can Avoid the Valley of Despair

Today I had the pleasure of hearing  Howard Teibel (@HowardTeibel) speak about embracing and reaction to change. Throughout his speech he used the idea of “technology” as a catchall to represent all of the “changes” that schools would face in the future. Many of those in attendance were concerned about the implications of increasing access to technology, and he used this image to present how organizations deal with any change, technological or otherwise:

The stages of dealing with change.
The stages of dealing with change.

Mr. Teibel’s chart captures the fact that when we fail to educate those around us, the natural trajectory of change leads to what he calls the “Valley of Despair.” When students and faculty feel inadequately prepared for new initiatives it is easy to feel confused, misled, and even angry. Changes need to be introduced gradually, with an end in mind, and with the concession that it is impossible to reach unanimity on any planned decision.

Mr. Teibel then referred to concept I was less familiar with, Claes Janssen‘s Four Rooms of Change:

CONTENTMENTAdjustment. My present situation feels good enough as it is. Relaxed, effortless self-control, as when riding a bicycle. Attention focused on the here & now, no marked self-reflection. »I am OK, you are OK«. Feeling »average« in the sense of not special. Being there.
RENEWALCreative change. Integration. A sense of »getting it all together«. Insights, aha-experiences. Feelings freely felt and expressed. Intense experience of the here & now, with self-reflection: I participate and observe that I am participating. Strong feelings of community. Self-confidence. Energy. Radical ideas, a desire to make things happen.
DENIALPseudo-adjustment. Self-discipline with focus on completing a certain task or defending a certain pattern or status quo. No clear feelings. I am in control but uptight. The here & now (if experienced at all) feels empty and mechanical. Irritation. Attention concentrated on the task felt to be necessary, on the rules and/or my image in others’ eyes, on not to lose face, on tactical considerations, etc.
CONFUSIONMaladjustment. Something is or feels wrong here & now, but I do not know what, or what to do to make things right. Tense, negative self- consciousness with feelings of inferiority and doubts; »self-centred«. Chaos. Dialectical YES/NO-conflicts within and/or without. Feelings in a clinch. A sense of unreality.

Before changes come about, many will start in the room of contentment. People grow accustomed to the status quo, and accept things as they are. They are either happy with the way things work, or they are hesitant to redefine their roles. When change is first introduced many people head into the room of denial. Denial is not necessarily a bad place. In addition to serving as a defense-mechanism it can help us define our priorities (Dezieck). If, for instance, a school is preparing to adopt a 1-to-1 program, many teachers may immediately step into this room. Their hesitancy will be based on many concerns such as the proper role of technology in education, the pervasiveness of technology in our lives, and the adequacy of technical training for faculty and students, all of which are legitimate concerns.

Any new technology adoption needs to be driven by pedagogical concerns and directly tied to an institution’s vision. Technology is not a cure in and of itself. The effectiveness of any technological tool is a product of its necessity, community buy in, professional development support, and the relationship of the tool to their institutions objectives.  

The key at the denial stage is for us to help faculty and students transition to the confusion room. In many ways,  a state of confusion is the most powerful place to start any journey of learning or growth. Once we reach this place of cognitive dissonance we have the ability to challenge and refine the beliefs previously held. When things are too comfortable it is nearly impossible to learn, and certainly highly difficult to process change. This key stage is pivotal, because while the door from denial to confusion is unlocked, it is not wide open. People need to have time, support, and patience before they can open the door and leave one room for another. They need to open this door on their own. Change does not, and should not, happen overnight. It also is very difficult to sustain if people are not allowed to call it into question. If the intention of any technological change is ultimately adoption, it is going to take some time.

The final stage is renewal. This stage is highly metacognitive. At this point the changes have been fully adopted and people are comfortable enough to reflect back on the process that led to this stage. When people look back on the process they may begin to see new opportunities for change, or if they become complacent, they can reenter the first room again. It is important that we take the time to analyze the rationale behind any change, and that we work together to propose new, radical ideas after doing so.

All of this has led me to the idea that of the various ingredients that are added into the recipe of education, technology is perhaps the most seasonal one. The tools we have at our disposal seem to change each day, and each time a new communication or creation tool comes into use, new challenges arise. Tools come into and fall out of fashion at an astounding rate, and that is okay. As educators we need to accept this.

We need to be realistic and acknowledge that our students will have access to these tools whether we want them to or not. It is as important for our students to go through the stages of change as it is for us as educators. We need to have strategies for teaching students how to face these changes. We cannot focus on specific technologies, we need to be technology agnostic and teach our students how to live in a world that is constantly evolving. By recognizing that change is inevitable we can take a step back, slow down, and focus on the educational side that preempts any new tool, thus smoothing out the process of adoption. Ultimately, the key is that we avoid or minimize the “valley of despair” by preparing ourselves and our students for change.

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