The Broader the Base the Higher the Tower
The credo that guides change in me
A large oval of grass rests at the bottom of the steps to the library. I notice it each time that I visit my friend at the institution where she works. There are no plants, sculptures or fountains in this oval. The lack of visual stimulation ironically maintains my interest. Why was this space free? Upon entering the library, I notice the lack of plants as well as the lack of artwork. The wheels of change begin to move in my head. I consider ways to use the oval as well as how subtle changes to the visual appearance of the library would create positive change. After a brief greeting, I question my friend about my observations. I believe that change is exciting and invigorating. For me, it provides the impetus for growth and productivity. I cultivate my creative energies by making changes.
Teaching is a playing field for those who crave change. Each academic year brought change to my life as an educator. A change in students, a classroom move, a different schedule, teammates who transition from department to department, or an enhanced curriculum ushered in a new year. Thirty-six weeks of teaching, four marking periods, two semesters and a wealth of units bring change. Administration provides a curriculum to adapt to one discipline with the edict to create a new program for a different discipline. I balanced the see-saw between innovation and adaptation with fluidity. The ban wagon of change moves through public education with regularity. The mantra, “If it ain’t broke, break it” is a habitual ride on this bandwagon of change. As a teacher, I learned to embrace change or to become engulfed by it. These changes occurred at an administrative level with no inclusion of me as the recipient of change. This is a common practice in public education.
When I began teaching in the 1980’s, the phrase “life-long learner” was not one that I heard in academic or professional settings. Professional development offerings through human resources cultivated my desire to learn. The reactions to my participation, which would extend well beyond my contractual obligations, were skeptical. My co-workers could not wrap their brains around my behavior. Participation in new learning on my part meant an instance of new learning on the part of my students. Students polarized in their reactions to these changes: some eyes would roll while some would sparkle with excitement. My attention to their polarization, as an inexperienced teacher, attributed negativity to opposition. Those on the welcoming side of change affirmed the inclusion of a change as complimentary. My interpretation of these reactions engaged the lowest level of inference. I based reaction to change from data that I could observe directly.
When I enrolled in the introductory adult learning course at Virginia Commonwealth University, I noticed that students referred to themselves as lifelong learners. They did so with great conviction. learning beyond the basic recall of facts to that of the integration of learning to new contexts was the expectation. This engagement was a change from other graduate courses I encountered in diverse settings. As a leader in an organization, the instance to learn continuously is one that I would employ when facilitating organizational change. While I believe that lifelong learning translates beyond a traditional classroom setting, my understanding of polarization has changed. I cannot attend to every piece of behavior that adult learners exhibit. As a well-seasoned professional, when I make inferences, I move from translation to evaluation before I decide how to respond to adults in an organization setting.
The credo, by which I live my life, is one I embraced early in my career. While a belief that the broader the base, the higher the tower, sounds trite, the principle behind it is not. I value a growth mindset that leads me to believe that one’s traits, intelligence, and capabilities are not set. When developing for the needs of my learners, regardless of setting, I consider the tools necessary to reach a higher goal. In one of my early work settings, my school system welcomed opportunities for students to broaden their education base. Exposure to rich learning events outside of the classroom does not occur naturally in all home settings. My classroom environment and the learning events that I created was the medium through which change occurred. I did not tell my students how to change, but rather illustrated models through which thinking and behavior could changed. When I engage in learning events for adults, my skill as a networker and my ability to recognize opportunities will enhance change events. I recognize this model as valid for young learners. Time and opportunity will determine the efficacy of this credo for change in adults and organizations.
Cultivating a relationship with those engaged in change creation is of equal importance to me as cultivating a relationship with the recipient of change. The role of president-elect in one non-profit setting is rather ambiguous. In preparation for the role or president, I have elected to learn about each program within the organization. I meet with those who manage the programs to understand the relationship between the auxiliary and the medical center. Within each program, are board members and volunteers who welcome the occasion to share their positions and their expectations. The feedback indicates that this time is well spent. In a hand-written thank you note, I reflect on the personal life of the volunteer before I recognize their contribution to the organization. It has a remarkable return rate for me. An organization that relies solely on the goodwill of volunteers recognizes that time building relationships is a crucial component in facilitating change. Volunteers who invest in the organization expect a high rate of return on their investment.
Through self-reflection, I know that my desire to enact change is sometimes a mechanism that I engage to deflect boredom. This behavior can unintentionally invalidate adults. At times, they have expressed that my desire or interest to consider change springs from my dissatisfaction with life. I have heard that my questioning reflects negativity on my part. I am aware that some members of my non-profit organizations view my behavior and actions as malaprop to the mission of the organization. This knowledge of how others view change is of substance when contemplating change in an organization. I cannot change others; I can only change how I react to them. A judicious reflection of my motives is the necessary pause between the stimulus for change and the appropriateness of change in each situation.
The exchange between my library friend and me transitions to a more congenial topic. I thank her for the instance to visit her at work. I enjoy the view of the library as I return to my car. This organization, nearly 200 years in existence, does not need to ride the bandwagon of change for plants, artwork and fountains. At times, continuity is comforting.