Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Ring in the New, But Don’t be Wrung Out by the New

By:  Patrick O'Connor  Ph.D

School counselors know this isn’t always the merriest and happiest of times for some students.  From students living in homes in crisis, to those living with families in transition, to the uncertainties some experience when graduating high school, counselors know that the holidays can bring some mighty challenges to overcome.

We’re used to helping others work through these issues—but what do we do when we’re the ones needing help through a transition? While 2016 brought many events that required us to reflect on our personal values, more than a few moments challenged our professional beliefs—and it’s likely we’ll begin the new year with some additional opportunities to review, reconsider, and clarify.  Consider these:

·         Significant changes are expected at the national level of education leadership.  Some of these were already in place with the passage of the new Elementary and Secondary Schools Act, where much of the decision-making was shifted back to the states.  These changes may be magnified further with the election and appointment of officials who believe education is much more a state issue than a national issue, a position that has been used in the past to create distinct educational climates in each state that have led to different levels of college and career readiness.

·         These changes are likely to be heightened by the absence of a First Family whose support of counselors and counseling services is unprecedented.  From hosting the ASCA Counselor of the Year ceremony in the White House to engaging students to ReachHigher, counselors and college access are on the radar screens of millions of students who once saw themselves as beyond hope, and beyond repair—until the Obamas personalized the college journey, and students realized there was room for them after all.
As a result of these two changes, we now have some idea what it’s like for a student whose favorite teacher retires in the middle of the year, and is replaced by someone who has a different vision of how a classroom should operate.  That difference isn’t good or bad; the mere fact it isn’t the same as what used to be is enough to cause concern.

What are our keys to making a successful transition?  The same ideas we offer to our students when they sense their scene is shifting, and they don’t know what their new world will look like:

Say goodbye.  The best way to recognize things will be different in some way is to look back on the good you’ve had an express thanks for it.  This helps you appreciate all the good you’ve had in your life, and it helps you identify why it was good.

Set your goals.  Finding the good in the past clarifies what you value, which will help you determine the qualities you’ll want to maintain in times of change.  Those qualities may manifest themselves in new ways, but focusing on their worth to you will make the new forms of those qualities easier to identify and appreciate.

Stand up for yourself.  A new job or a new boss may challenge you to demonstrate flexibility, but that’s different than giving in.  Looking and listening closely will guide you to know the difference between change that is absolute, and change that is negotiable.  Either way, you don’t have to give up your principles.

Celebrate the victories.  If the journey really is the sum of the steps, recognizing the value of each step can be the difference between moving forward and giving up.  Every step may not be perfect, but many will resonate with purpose.  Honor them, and they will become more frequent.

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