“It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions. Change is not the same as transition. Change is situational: the new site, the new boss, the new team roles, the new policy. Transition is the psychological process people go through to come to terms with the new situation. Change is external, transition is internal”~ William Bridges
Welcome to the first edition of the Blueprint Bulletin!
What is the The Blueprint Bulletin? The Blueprint Bulletin is our streamlined replacement for all of our former blogs (Blueprint Installation Central, Trailblazers, Pathfinders, and Inspire), the live Twitter chats, the live webinar series and the podcasts. Each issue of the Blueprint Bulletin will be theme-based and have a similar format, including sections connecting the theme to the Blueprint and related research. Leader’s Corner and Teacher’s Corner are written for both essential stakeholder groups and provides an opportunity for you to read, reflect, and apply what you have learned by suggesting some possible next steps. To help you navigate the newsletter, you can click on the read more button within each section of the Blueprint Bulletin or use the links at the bottom of the email to read individual sections. The Blueprint Bulletin is meant to spark your curiosity, ignite your interest, and enhance your learning.
Change and Transition
“Change is situational. Transition, on the other hand, is psychological. It is not those events but rather the inner reorientation or self-redefinition that you have to go through in order to incorporate any of those changes into your life. Without a transition, a change is just a rearrangement of the furniture. Unless transition happens, the change won’t work.”~ William Bridges
When you think about systemically reconfiguring your district, there is a guarantee that change will happen; there is much variability in how each person reacts to these changes . . . some embrace, some dig their heels in, and some wait for the change to pass.
In his books, Transitions and Managing Transitions, William Bridges talks about the difference between change and transitions. Change means to make or become different. Change succeeds or fails based on whether the people affected do things differently. Transitions, on the other hand, start with letting go of what no longer fits. Transition is the psychological three-step process people go through to internalize and come to terms with a change. The three-steps are endings, neutral zone, and new beginnings. People in an organization may be experiencing all three phases at the same time, because people will go through the stages at their own rate.
Every transition begins with an ending. You have to let go of the old thing before you can pick up the new one — not just outwardly, but inwardly, where you keep your connections to people and places that act as definitions of who you are. Endings should mark what is over and what is not over; they should be marked in a ceremonial/symbolic way.
The Neutral Zone is supposed to feel like chaos, confusion, and sometimes even a bit out of control. You may feel resentment, skepticism, anxiety, low morale or question your role, status, or identity. The Neutral Zone can also be a time of great creativity as it can force you to think about things in new ways. The Neutral Zone lasts as long as it lasts. You have to be gracious with yourself and others; you can’t force the neutral zone to end.
The third step in the transition process is the New Beginning. The New Beginning is the tentative acceptance of the new situation. It is represented by new actions and behaviors and you feel more settled and comfortable. Even when the “external” change happens quickly, the internal realignment and renewal of energy happen more slowly.
Bridges, W. (2017). Managing transitions: making the most of change. Boston, MA: Da Capo.
Bridges, W. (2020). Transitions: making sense of life’s changes. Boston, MA: Da Capo Lifelong.
“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”― Albert Einstein
Systemic reconfiguration requires a multitude of changes. All educators are asked to shift their mindset and believe that each student can be successful with the right academic and non-academic supports. Teachers may be asked to adopt a new curriculum and to think differently about their instruction. They are asked to collaborate, be vulnerable, and take risks, while building and district teams are expected to regularly problem solve using data. Superintendents and building leaders are encouraged to prioritize their schedules so they are frequently visiting classrooms, coaching, modeling, and providing feedback.
Everyone within the district is asked to be open to new thinking and to adopt new behaviors and ways of interacting with each other. During these changes, how might you keep in mind the 3-phase transition process and acknowledge that the time for the emotional transition depends on each individual? How might you support yourself and others to handle the changes and transitions? What might you need to be intentional about?
“We can’t be afraid of change. You may feel very secure in the pond that you are in, but if you never venture out of it, you will never know that there is such a thing as an ocean, a sea. Holding onto something that is good for you now, may be the very reason why you don’t have something better.”― C. JoyBell C.
As you leave the comfort of the old and move into the adventure that is the new, Dr. William Bridges provides suggestions on how you can help staff through the transitions. Think about how you might model letting go of the old. You might begin by openly acknowledging what has ended making things tangible and concrete for your staff. You can help others by sharing a ceremonial way to mark an ending.
As people navigate the neutral zone, it’s important to provide staff with clear instructions and prepare for a variety of reactions. It’s helpful to communicate early and often about what is going to happen and be transparent with expectations. Neutral zones create strong emotions, so listen empathetically and be open to hearing the feelings of others. Leading transitions takes heart.
To support staff as they embark on new beginnings, make sure to set the purpose and your vision for the future. Communicate your goals and clear action steps to move forward. Just because you are ready for a new beginning does not mean everyone on your staff has left the neutral zone and is ready at the same time as you. It will be important to listen and be open to feedback from your staff during the transition process.
As a leader you need to think about your own transition, the transition of each member of your district or school, and the transition of the organization as a whole.
“Starting today, I need to forget what’s gone, appreciate what still remains and look forward to what’s coming next.~ Socrates
As a teacher you need to be aware of your own reaction to change and your own inner journey through the three phases of transition. Realizing that you are not alone and that others are experiencing the transition is reassuring. Try sharing with other teachers what emotions you are feeling as you let go of the “old way.” Progress means taking stock of the past and leaning into the future. Sometimes leaning into the future is easier when you share your journey with those around you and by being an active participant in the change process.
Take a moment to reflect on a time where the transition may have been easier for you. Might you have been more of a participant than a spectator? Change and the transition process may be easier when participating in learning, stepping up when leaders are asking for volunteers, and being curious. Engaging in the change allows you to feel more involved and in control.
Usually the changes you face in education are not about wiping the slate clean and starting from scratch. You may now be asked to engage in collaborative teacher teams with your colleagues or implement high-quality instructional practices, but you are still working with the same curricular resources and may be teaching the same grade level as previous years. Work together as a team to determine what collaboration will look like for you and set a vision for how you will interact with each other. You may use a looks like/feels like protocol to support your team with this conversation. The important point is to explore how you can support each other to tackle the changes ahead. As you collaboratively explore, consider using a protocol to support the transition process. Using a Hopes/Fears Protocol will create a norm of ownership by the group of every individual’s expectations and concerns by getting these into the open and begin addressing them together.
This is not to say that change is easy and navigating transitions with your colleagues is more manageable than going it alone.
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“It’s only after you’ve stepped outside your comfort zone that you begin to change, grow, and transform.”~ Roy T. Bennett
Changes will force you outside of your comfort zone usually whether you like it or not. How might you think about the changes you are facing both professionally and personally through a new lens now that you have learned about the inner journey of transition? Transitions happen with every change you encounter. How can you be better prepared for marking endings, navigating the neutral zone, and embracing new beginnings?
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