All Articles Education Educational Leadership Approaching drastic changes

Approaching drastic changes

Acknowledging and welcoming change, then accepting that what is different may be the new normal, are important parts of leadership.

7 min read

EducationEducational Leadership

bird nest empty with just white feathers in it for article on changes

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From the conclusion of this past school year through the end of July, both of our children attended sleepaway camp in upstate New York. This left my wife and me with a situation very different than we have had in over 13 years: a house empty of children. There have been a few times where we have taken short vacations (a night or two) or where both girls have had sleepovers at friends’ houses on the same evening, but this was the first time where for multiple weeks it has just been me and my wife in our home.

Fred Ende

It was a weird feeling, for sure. And being a house of two (plus the dog, of course) led me to reflect on a few ideas that might come in handy for when any of us experience fairly quick and drastic changes, whatever they might entail.

Acknowledge the differences 

During periods of quick or drastic change, what becomes different is very easy to notice. We do significant good by speaking to those differences rather than attempting to pretend they aren’t there. Too often we attempt to try and backfill “what is now” with “what was.” 

When big changes come our way, it needs to be a recognized impossibility to go back to how things were just a short time before. Sometimes, we can’t go back to how things were at all.

In our case, one of the biggest differences that my wife and I noticed immediately was how quiet the house was. While my wife and I are talkative, our daughters are extremely boisterous, and, by adult standards, quite loud. So, our house is often energetic with few significant periods of quiet. 

We went through a few stages with this. First, we welcomed the reduction in energy, sometimes sitting and reading in each other’s presence for hours without saying a word. A number of days in, we started to attempt to cover for what was missing, playing music more regularly, talking louder, having the television on in the background. And then we acknowledged, and embraced, the fact that for the time being, we would just have to accept the difference that existed. We simply weren’t going to make up for the temporary lack of energy. So, we allowed ourselves the freedom to enjoy the difference and do more things that we couldn’t do when our children were home. The eventual acceptance of a different world helped us to spend more time enjoying the change than attempting to block it. 

This made me consider the importance of remembering we always have a locus of control at a given point. There are some changes we can play a role in and work for and against, and simply some that we have to roll with. Recognizing which of these is which is an important element of leadership in any role.

Welcome the emotion from changes

All changes are hard, and drastic change is often harder. We are built to resist anything that shifts our lives out of balance, and often the bigger the change, the harder we push back against its impact. Part of the reason for this is that imbalance is emotional. Even if changes are for good, the shifting regularly brings on less than good feelings. A promotion in role, for instance, might be an amazing opportunity. And it might also be anxiety- and fear-producing. 

We went through a number of emotional shifts with both girls out of the house. First, it felt freeing. Then, we felt guilty for feeling it felt freeing. Next, we were sad that they were gone for so long. Then, we felt great about how much fun they were having (and how much fun we were having as well). 

Throughout, we spoke about what we were feeling and the value of that emotion. We never looked at the emotion as the problem; it was simply how we were processing it that caused difficulties. 

In her recent book, “The PD Book,” author Elena Aguilar, writing with Lori Cohen, speaks about the importance of embracing emotion. While they write with the facilitation of learning in mind, the parallels between our personal and professional lives are evident. “Learning to listen to our bodies, and understand what they tell us, is critical,” Aguilar and Cohen write. 

Regardless of whether we are working through emotions in a professional or personal capacity, welcoming them is always a good idea, as it allows us to act on them in the most effective manner. I’ve found that when I speak to the emotions I’m feeling (in all aspects of my life), I end up happier with the outcome of the conversation. That openness is freeing, shows great strength and rewards the person (or people) we are speaking with some excellent insight into the human side of who we are.

Accept the loss

One of the outcomes of our children going to sleepaway camp is that they come home with experiences — some individual, some shared — that we are not a part of. These are not necessarily small experiences, either. For both of our daughters, this summer brought some opportunities that were really life-changing (creation of friendships, leadership opportunities, ways to stretch and grow that we could not provide). 

There is loss involved in this for my wife and I as parents. There is the loss of not deeply knowing what they are talking about or not having been there when they accomplished wonderful feats, etc. As a parent, it is important to take great pride in the accomplishments of a child or children, and when we miss the chance to be fully involved, loss can set in. 

What my wife and I have learned, though, through this being our older daughter’s third sleepaway summer, is that accepting this loss is also part of parenting. We will never be able to be there for all that our children experience. And, just as importantly, our children don’t need (or want) us there for everything. Yet, we can still take great pride in their growth, even if we are no longer a rich part of all of it. 

This reflection on changes has great connections to our work as leaders. The leader who must have their hands in every growth and change initiative is the leader who ends up being the only one left. Giving our colleagues the space to grow without our direct involvement can be just as empowering as when we play a present role. The best approach? To know who people are, recognize what they need from us and give it to them when they need it. In this way, we marry response with trust.

As I write this, the day after our children have returned home, it is clear they are struggling with all three of these ideas as well. Ultimately, in any drastic change, everyone is impacted. If nothing else, the most responsive leaders recognize the reverberations and acknowledge what’s different, welcome the associated emotions and accept the loss.


Fred Ende is the director of curriculum and instructional services for Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. Ende currently blogs for SmartBrief Education, and his two books, “Professional Development That Sticks” and “Forces of Influence,” are available from ASCD. Connect with Ende on his website or on Twitter.

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own. 


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