Navigating Change

What kind of changes do we see at home and in school and how can we deal with change that is happening at an increasing rate? Two individuals, a parent and an educator, offer their views on having the right mindset towards change and dealing with change.

How does a parent with young children navigate change? Daphne Lee, mother of two, finds out that her children are adaptable to it so long as parents can lead the way. She offers a parent’s perspective.

It is not the easiest concept to navigate, this big word that even adults fear – change. Yet, it is the single most constant thing that happens in life. Try explaining ‘change’ to a child who is five and they may think you are trying to tell them to ‘change’ their clothes. What about a seven-year-old? How would they interpret change – something that happens quickly?

In my household of two children aged five and seven, change is not so evident a word as it is a process. I have learnt to manage their change as they learn to deal with mine. Take a peek into a child’s mind, for a minute. Children go through a cyclical process of time that happens in seconds, minutes, hours, days and months. The understanding of each becomes more apparent as they grow older. Most parents would agree that change happens when there is a different marked season in their lives, for example, going to school for the first time, or trying out a new thing.

My seven-year-old daughter entered into the first year of the primary school education system, this year. Her routine has changed dramatically as she gets used to spending at least half of the day in school from 7.20am to 1.30pm. What a big difference from her kindergarten days when she spent only three hours in school. I saw it as a big change process for her whereas she accepted it as part of going into a ‘big-girl’ school. In her mind, it could possibly mean that the more hours she spent in school, the more grown-up she is.

My first struggle with her new routine was to ask myself this question: “How much extra activities do I want her to keep up with, given her longer hours at school?” she has swimming, piano, and ballet lessons which she started since she was four. The second struggle I had was when she came back from school and told me: “Mummy I want to learn golf, tennis and gym in school.” “Did she have the time and the energy to do all these,” I asked myself.

Truth be told, it’s been seven months since she started on a primary school routine. She has embarked on learning the three activities she signed up for in school and she cannot be any happier. Yes, it is a packed routine but we are glad that she was able to make the choices for herself, with our guidance and her acceptance that if she was too exhausted, we would have to consider giving up one or more of the activities.

What about the change in all this? We did not see how our daughter changed to become more mature or more responsible overnight. We took it one step at a time with her, engaging her in the decision-making, considering the results and consequences and then empowering her to make those decisions. In return, she has learnt that she is responsible for the decisions she makes, starting with the small ones. Did I tether on the brink of fear? Yes, when she came home feeling tired and had to be pushed to complete her homework. Those were the moments when I asked myself if I should have just taken things into my own hands.

“We took it one step at a time with her, engaging her in the decision-making, considering the results and consequences and then empowering her to make those decisions.” – Daphne Lee, Parent

Perhaps it takes a lot more effort to negotiate change, to effect change and to handle change, especially when it involves our children but I believe in building a foundation for it. Once that is established, our role as parents is to give them the hands to hold, when they need it, and the heart to deal with what may come their way in life.

Looking at the rapid changes in societal expectations of education, in the system, in youths and parents, how then can educators go about navigating these changes? School teacher, William, offers an educator’s perspective.

On Societal Expectations
One of the biggest change over the years is society’s demands on education. Education has evolved from simply feeding information to our students, to centre on the holistic development of a child. Besides expanding the mind, education now has a greater emphasis on developing a child’s social and emotional learning, interaction skills and behaviour management skills, among others.

The systemic demands on educators have thus changed to include both the standard academic syllabus (which continues to grow) and the non-academic content. Educators must now customise the syllabus to stretch top students, help weak students, and develop the appropriate pedagogy to cater to the different learning styles of all students.

Beyond academic content, educators need to take on roles to facilitate National Education, character development and Co- Curricular Activities. As a result of these changes, their workload has increased.

On Students
There is also a marked change in our students today. They are more vocal, reflective, and are quick to air their opinions, though not always appropriately. At times they can be rude and disruptive. one skill they must gain is the ability to express their ideas appropriately. Another skill is discernment. With access to so much information, I see a need for educators to empower our students to discern and differentiate between fact and opinion.

On Parents
Parents and their expectations have also changed. With a fewer number of children per family, parents have more attention given to each child. At the core, both parents and educators want the best for the child. However, there may be a mismatch in their expectations.

With extended working hours, some parents expect educators to do the job of imparting values and ‘baby-sitting’. With an average of a 40:1 student-to-teacher ratio, deep development is not a realistic expectation. More than ever, parental involvement is vital for each child to achieve their potential. It is important to equip parents to work hand-in-hand with teachers for what is best for the child, and for trust on both sides to be able to carry out impactful programmes for the student.

“More than ever, parental involvement is vital for each child to achieve their potential. It is important to equip parents to work hand-in-hand with teachers for what is best for the child, and for trust on both sides to be able to carry out impactful programmes for the student.” – William, Educator

On Rolling Out Changes
Change management used to be a top-down practice. With society developing at a pace where information is fast and ubiquitous, changes are developing from the bottom-up as well. A new challenge is a need to see change not just in silos, but also systemically, its impact in other areas. Instead of the old approach of having everything perfectly tested before it is rolled out, rapid prototyping is favoured. We should look at rolling out near complete ideas and refining them along the way.

While rolling out school-wide changes, it is crucial for the management team to give clear and specific directions to staff on ground level. The management needs to control how much change to implement, as change may be difficult and costly. At times there are unspoken assumptions that when we change, it will succeed, and succeed quickly. Before delving into new changes, it may be wise for the management team to evaluate if they should go deeper with initiatives already in motion.

For staff on the ground, it is important to be receptive to the change and to understand the rationale for the changes. Change is inevitable and resisting it often is counterproductive. The ideal scenario is when staff owns the change and provide inputs along the way. With every change, there will be mistakes and problems that occur; everyone needs to be patient and work towards learning, so as to achieve better capabilities in making better decisions for the future.

On Navigating Change
In navigating change, it is important to play up to the strengths of the team. some people are visionaries who can chart the course. For the middle management tier, they are the ones who will bring fruition to the vision. Commitment and trust are essential ingredients to managing change, all the more so in dynamic settings. If feedback from the middle management indicates how certain things cannot be changed, top management should listen and help facilitate a challenge towards success.

I liken this partnership to steering an airplane where the pilot and navigator need to work together. Top management is like the navigator; they have the vantage point of a bird’s eye view. middle management is like the pilot; they have the privilege of knowing how the ground works which gives them an advantage to navigating through change. regardless, both are interdependent for change to be successfully implemented.

It is critical to adapt to situations, culture and events. skills and ideas need to adapt to the landscape. However, our core values and beliefs must stay grounded. They guide our directions and decisions. otherwise, we would be a leaf in the wind.

Article by Daphne Lee, with contributor William. William is an Acting subject Head at a post-secondary education institution. He has a big heart in developing his students, especially in their thought processes. (He has requested to remain partially anonymous.)

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