New year, new role

The new year brings new experiences. Sometimes that is a new crop of students, sometimes new staff, sometimes new programs and sometimes new roles for us.

Role changes are great opportunities for us to consider the work that we’ve done and the work we still need to accomplish. They provide us with the opportunity to engage in work in new ways and help us better understand the challenges and opportunities that exist across our profession. They open our eyes, grow our minds and expand our boundaries. Regardless of the new position and circumstances surrounding it, new is new, and that newness provides untold opportunity.

I recently transitioned to a new role. It’s caused me to reflect on several ideas that have either resulted in successful outcomes or been the result of less successful ones. Here are three keys that anyone moving into a new position should keep top of mind.

Recognize that change affects everyone. When people move up, down or sideways in an organization, the emphasis is always placed on the person who is doing the moving. In a lot of ways that has to be the case. That person will be required to showcase a different set of skills, set different outcomes and engage with people, processes and products in a very different way. However, everyone around the person who is adjusting roles is also transitioning. A new person in a role means new ways of operating for everyone, and the person doing the transitioning can only benefit from recognizing this. That means taking time to meet with all those whose roles are impacted to better understand their joys, fears and wonderings tied to the shift. It also means recognizing that the staff member whose role has shifted may be required to shift their own leading and learning strategies to best support those of everyone else. The ripple effect is real; a promotion, demotion or lateral move is never solely about the role changer.

Listen first, leverage second. We all believe we have something to prove. It is human nature to want to build our own self-efficacy as well as our appearances in the eyes of others. And, to do either of those, we often have to take action. The challenge, of course, is that we never act in a vacuum. Any action we take will impact those we serve. While we all recognize that taking time during a transition to understand the newness of things is a necessity, we often let our desire to prove our worth push us into acting too soon. Instead, take the time to listen and learn before using leverage to move things. After all, we can often prove our value just as easily this way; taking action sometimes does nothing more than prove that we haven’t listened as deeply as we should have.

Plan for the present, think to the future. A wise person twice said, “Never underestimate the value of a well-designed plan.” And for those transitioning, plans for entry are a necessity. They can serve as a valuable road map and a benchmark to map progress or identify challenges. Well-designed plans do precisely what they were intentioned to do: they provide structure, help with goal setting and allow for mini-celebrations of success, all requirements for someone engaging in new work in a new way. And here’s a small secret: We can’t let our planning for the present prevent us from taking moonshots toward the future. The uncertain nature of a transition can’t discourage us from thinking big, wondering and even and wishing about big ideas. In fact, a transition requires us to balance the “set in stone” with the “blank canvas.” The juxtaposition of these allows those in a transition state to benefit from the dynamic equilibrium that we can too often lose when living in a position for a significant time. The best recipes for learning involve ingredients we understand along with a dash of those we don’t.

Transitions can’t be taken lightly. They may be times to be celebrated or times to be frustrated with, or sometimes both. They impact many people around us and can sometimes push us to adopt practices we recognize are less than ideal. Yet, as a fact of life, and as a requirement for people and organizations to grow, they need to be welcomed, or at the very least, recognized. Respecting the transition, and all that comes with it, is the best way to enter anything new and to come out feeling as if we’ve grown.

Fred Ende (@fredende) is the assistant director of Curriculum and Instructional Services for Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. Fred blogs at www.fredende.blogspot.com, Edutopia, ASCD EDge and SmartBrief Education. His book, Professional Development That Sticks is available from ASCD. Visit his website: www.fredende.com.

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