Many years ago, as a new clinician starting my first job as a school clinician,over and over, I heard that we needed to be careful with change when working with students. Whether it was changing schedules or therapy approaches, the mantra was that too much change would cause stress for our students. For two years I believed this! I was cautious about any changes I recommended for my students or any changes I made to their therapy routine. Eventually I discovered something very interesting-it wasn’t the students who couldn’t handle change, it was the adults!
How many of you have discovered this? The longer I worked the clearer it became as I observed my students in and out of the classroom, through many changes including disruptions to their schedules such as surprise fire/ earthquake drills, substitute teachers, and all the other changes a school setting can offer. Through all of this, amazingly, the students were just fine. It was the adults (teachers, administrators, specialists, parents, etc) who could not handle the change. More often than not, the students’ took it in stride, not blinking an eye, or batting an eyelash-they just moved on as long as the adults did not show their displeasure or discomfort with the change!
Another part of change is fear of the unknown. Most adults like their routine and are very comfortable chugging along in the same routine day after day. Not changing becomes very comfortable and we can avoid facing our fear of change. While this may sound good, we can become stagnant if we never change.
Watch children play on the school playground, at the park or in your neighborhood They are fearless! Watch them swing from the bars, jump from a tall rock, or leap over a log. It is amazing! Kids are fearless when they are young which is why they do not have difficulty with change. They have not yet learned fear. Somewhere along the line, as we near adulthood, we may begin to develop fears. As adults we can’t believe that we participated in some of those childhood activities; yet we often watch with envy! As an example, when I was around 13 or 14, I took a friend with me to visit my aunt in San Francisco. She lived in an apartment building in an area with many other buildings that were 6 to 10 stories tall. We had a great time, going up on the roof of my aunt’s building, and jumping (yes, jumping!) from one building roof to the next. Now if you know San Francisco, you know that the buildings are close together-maybe 12 to 18 inches apart. However, as I think back on this childhood activity, I cringe thinking about what could happen! As an adult, I certainly have developed some fears.
These fears can translate into fear of change and fear of new things which can stagnate our careers and our lives. I, for one, learned to embrace change as my career unfolded. Initially, I was complacent, and did not want to change, as I was comfortable. Eventually, I became bored and wanted something new. This is when I began to embrace change which has allowed me to explore the many options that are opened to speech-language pathologists.
My first glimpse of embracing change came after almost four years of working in public schools. While I had (and still have) the utmost respect for colleagues in the schools, I began to feel antsy and wanted to try something different. This meant a huge change for me in terms of my worksite, skills and comfort level. I decided to switch to working with adults. SLPs know that switching from the schools to adult rehab(or the other way around) is a big jump and it required honing skills that I had not used for about four years. However, I was ready for a change and excited to be in a different setting. I did my homework to be prepare myself and went in search of a new work setting. It was scary and uncomfortable, but I knew I was ready.
To make a long story short, I left the schools and lasted all of 6 months in a rehab setting working with adults! However, I appreciated the colleague that hired me, supported me and understood when I knew that I wanted to go back to working with children.
During these six months, I discovered much about myself, including the fact that I loved working with children, but didn’t feel the schools were the right setting for me. Once again I began some research and decided to open a private practice serving children. This was a fantastic setting for me as I was able to add to my skills by obtaining continuing education in new areas in which I could offer services to children. I did that for 20+ years and was quite happy as I could change or add to my areas of expertise, which kept me fresh and excited for many year.
After many years in private practice, I was presented with an opportunity to work with a start-up providing telepractice to children in the schools. This opportunity came at a good time for me as I was wanting another change. So, off I went to this new company. Again, I embraced change (after doing my due diligence on telepractice). It was exhilarating to work in an up-and-coming company and interesting to be at the forefront of a new service delivery model.
I can’t tell you how much negative feedback I received from colleagues ( and friends) asking why I would go into something that is not proven. There were so many people talking about how it would change our profession negatively. Once I was able to explain what I was doing, and why, and t discuss the research, I calmed their fears and even turned some of them around to so they now embrace telepractice! It was an exciting ride.
Just recently, I made the switch back to consulting after an unexpected change. This time, it was a bit more difficult for me to embrace the change, but with the help of good friends, who assured me I had the skills and abilities to make another change to my career, I once again embraced this unexpected change and now welcomed it as it is allowing me to do some things on my career bucket list!
The best way to approach change, if you have some fears, is to do your research. Get as much information as you can that will assist in making sound decisions. You have to become a bit of a daredevil again (like you were as a child), but you can do it with a bit more thought this time around! Know the downside, but be willing to take some calculated risks. Taking a risk, doesn’t necessarily mean getting on a hoverboard for the first time and going as fast as you can before you really know how to control the hoverboard or understand the safety features. Do what you can handle, even if it means taking baby steps!
If you are presented with change within your work setting or outside, whether it is by choice, or it is forced on you, take it one step at a time, or jump in with both feet. Do what is comfortable for you. You will be amazed at what you learn and how good it feels to tread into unknown waters, one step at a time. Change can be refreshing, rejuvenating and exhilarating. It can also be scary if you are not prepared.
Prepare yourself for change by doing your homework, talking with colleagues, reading and networking. Find someone who you can talk with and share thoughts about how to embrace the changes. Going in with a positive outlook can make all the difference in the world on how you handle changes, big or small.
Next time: Will telepractice really change the way speech-language pathology is practiced?