It will be Different

April 29, 2016 in Inside SWS

A few months ago I asked a colleague for her thoughts on a possible change in a project that would soon get under way. I was contemplating doing something different from the previous year, and I asked her if she thought the outcome would be successful. She responded, “It will be different. And that’s okay.” Her comment and our exchange have stuck with me, and I continue to reflect on the impact of her few words.

In that moment, I was struck by the absence of judgment in her response, and conversely, how my initial question framed the issue in typical black-and-white terms. Success or failure, good or bad, right or wrong – isn’t that how we so often look at things? Yet, this colleague had offered me a new option: different. Defined as not ordinary, unusual, and distinct in nature, different objectively describes without subjectively assigning value. What an array of possibilities this lens opens up, in contrast to my polarizing duality of only two options.

In thinking more about this, I realized that underlying my question was my own discomfort with change. Actually, with the uncertainty of change. I can get very excited about change when I know what’s coming, can envision the end result, and have time to prepare myself and others for what lies ahead. Wouldn’t it be great if that were what change always looked like? Yet, calling on John Lennon’s adage, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans,” so it is with change.

I find that in schools, change, or even the prospect of change, can be very hard. The educational institution is rooted in predictable rhythms. Classes start in September and end in June. The day begins at 8 a.m. and ends at 3 p.m. Students learn to recognize numbers, and then add, subtract, divide, multiply, and so on. There is a reassuring order to our lives, until something is altered. And then we can feel uncertain, off balance, and desperately wishing things would just stay the same, even if the status quo was not serving us well. Surely what we know must be better than the unknown and unfamiliar coming toward us.

Which brings me back to where I started, and my conversation in February. What if we could approach change with a new mindset, the one my colleague offered me that day? Instead of being quick to judge, to approve or disapprove, like or dislike, could we instead get comfortable with simply, “It’s different?” Could we hold open the possibility that what is distinct, unique, and not ordinary, might actually be extraordinary? It’s not easy, to be sure. In the weeks following this discussion, I have included this third option when considering – or reacting to – change. The anxiety, disappointment, and frustration fall away, replaced by a curious observance of how things look and feel different, and how I am experiencing this event. Hmmm. Sounds a lot like Waldorf education, doesn’t it?


Published in the Connection from 4/29/16.