Coping with Change – Strategies for Weathering the Storm

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive,
not the most intelligent,
but the one most responsive to change.”
                                                  Charles Darwin

And, isn’t that the truth!

In my work as director of several early childhood programs, one of the important lessons I learned was that, as in my life, the only constant was change! Just when I’d get the staffing set – hired, oriented, and working together as a team – the enrollment would shift. Or, when the enrollment was at capacity, key teachers would make life changes and resign. The balancing act between having the appropriate team of teachers for the enrollment at hand was a constant challenge. It was always back to the drawing board! Over time, though, instead of reacting to it when it happened, I began planning for it in advance.

Another important lesson I learned was that problems and situations never arrived one at a time; rather, many happened simultaneously and, simply came out of the blue! With teachers, parents, children, and everything that accompanied these three groups; along with the environment, our facility, health and safety, funding, and the budget, the potential for a problem was always there. And, with each “situation” came the need to take action and, often, to make some kind of change. Some were small changes – hardly noticeable – but every now and then a major overhaul was necessary.

Today, we live in an age of instability; so, to think more proactively, and plan for the inevitable or, to actually make the changes needed, is a matter of survival, not choice.

“We can’t wait for the storm to blow over,
we’ve got to learn to work in the rain.”
                                                        Peter Silas

However, not all team members will see these necessary changes the same way. Many will feel insecure, confused, or uncertain. They may also feel a deterioration of trust, and a sense of self-preservation. And, while we are making the sound decisions we must make for our organizations, know that (disguised as feelings of betrayal, shock, denial, or disbelief) there will be resistance. A few on our team will actually resist the change by trying to sabotage our efforts. This will be harmful at first, but will ultimately backfire, because these people will be seen as getting in the way of the solution – people who are no longer part of the team; people who can no longer stay. Many more on our team will accept that our organization is not changing to make our lives miserable; they will listen and trust that we are doing the appropriate things, and they will grab hold of the future. A new team will be created.

“Coming together is a beginning,
Keeping together is progress,
Working together is success”
                                     Henry Ford

Throughout the change, our work as directors will be to communicate, communicate, communicate! When we strongly communicate a clear vision for our organization – even if it changes every week – the vision will keep our teams from drifting. Any silence on our part will be interpreted as unfavorable. In the absence of information, people make things up and, inevitably, it is hurtful and creates panic. As directors, during periods of change, we must force ourselves to be on the front line. Even though we may be reluctant, don’t hide behind the closed door of our offices; get out and among our team members – it will boost morale. Invite people to talk – it will increase our credibility and help us to uncover bad news before it becomes terrible news. When we can’t give answers (because of confidentiality), we can instead promise change, but sell it carefully – things will be different; there is both good and bad news; I’ll be straight with you. Always, always protect our “director” credibility.

As the leader of our organizations, what else should we be doing during this time of change?

  • First, before anything else, we must manage ourselves.
    • Keep a positive attitude, but be authentic. Be enthusiastic. Be curious about the challenges and possibilities. Be interested in the opportunity to repair, solve, or create.
    • We must manage our emotions. They affect not only us, but the entire organization. Keep a lid on venting and expressing ourselves inappropriately.
    • Most importantly, be the leader. Seize the day. People in transition want to be led.
    • Step up to the plate – make the difficult decisions and act on them.
  • We must also manage our teams, and put a great deal of energy into this!
    • Raise the bar. Keep them busy, focused, challenged, stretching, and achieving.
    • Motivate to the “nth” degree. Harness turbulence into positive energy. Harness concern into curiosity. Harness nervousness into attentiveness.
    • Re-recruit our best teachers. Our best teachers will jump ship if we don’t take care of them. Treat them as coveted applicants. Orient them to their new job description (the result of the change) as if we were orienting them to the organization for the first time. We do not want to lose any one of our top performers to our competition. Rather, we want to keep the best as the core of this new team. Create a supportive environment for them. Model the desired behavior.
    • Break the seemingly overwhelming tasks down into bite-size steps. Accomplish together; build on each success; and celebrate!
  • Guide our teachers during this time.
    • Take the lead and advise them throughout this change as well. They are looking to us for confidence, calm, and support.
    • To my teachers, I would say: Control your attitude – especially now. Breathe deeply before you speak. Take some ownership of the change. Choose your battles carefully. Keep your sense of humor. Don’t let your strengths become your weaknesses. Practice good stress management techniques. Invest in the future instead of trying to redesign the past.
  • And, for all of us moving forward in this ever-changing world, here are a few other work habits to cultivate:
    • Become a quick-change artist. Flexibility and adaptability in any situation will win the day.
    • Commit fully to your job. Which means doing whatever it takes to get the job done – well.
    • Keep moving forward. Meet or exceed all job expectations. Be the best you can be.
    • Accept ambiguity and uncertainty. It is temporary during change. Focus rather on the positive end result.
    • Behave like you are in business for yourself. See problems from the more global view – and support your director.
    • Keep learning; take classes. Keep growing and adding to your skills and expertise.
    • Hold yourself accountable for outcomes. And, make certain the outcomes are positive and successful.
    • Add value. Every way you can! “How can I be of service?” Go the extra mile.
    • Manage your own morale. You are responsible for you!
    • Alter your expectations as circumstances warrant. Changes take time, so be patient and adjust your thinking and react accordingly.

Finally, since we directors make changes to solve problems, to fix untenable situations, to get back on track, to get better in our work as we, ultimately, reach for the stars, I leave you with this:

EXCELLENCE … can be attained if you:

          CARE more than others think is wise …
          RISK more than others think is safe …
         DREAM more than others think is predictable …
         EXPECT more than others think is possible …

This entry was posted in Early Childhood, Early Childhood Leadership, Early Childhood Teachers, Managing Early Childhood Programs, Training for Early Childhood Directors. Bookmark the permalink.

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