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The View from Here: Embracing the Transition to New Values

By Michael Piccirillo, Ed.D, CASDA Executive Director

As I write my final View From Here I can’t help but to reflect on my past six years as Executive Director of CASDA. Over the past six years CASDA and the school districts we serve have experienced unexpected disruption to our traditional systems and structures. How did we react to these disruptions? What changed and what didn’t?


Some of the many changes CASDA experienced began with my hiring as Executive Director in June of 2018. In the fall of 2019 CASDA moved from the University at Albany East Campus in Rensselaer to the Main Campus at 1400 Washington Avenue. During the Covid-19 pandemic CASDA shifted its program delivery model to online adult learning with several free virtual series. As a result of the social changes occurring in our country, CASDA decided to place equity at the center of all of our work and began to offer DEI Training through our partner Common Thread, LLC. To address the mental health needs of students we ventured into new program areas like SEL and MTSS. CASDA’s communication and marketing model shifted with all publications moving from paper to digital and increased social media presence. CASDA stepped up its recruitment of consultants currently employed in school districts to maintain offerings that are relevant and practitioner-based. 


Many if not all of the aforementioned changes we experienced at CASDA might be classified as technical changes. In other words, structural, programmatic, technological quantifiable shifts in our work. However, as we know from the work of Ronald Heifetz (1994), “... adaptive challenge is a particular kind of problem where the gap cannot be closed by the application of current technology know-how or routine behavior” (p.35). Heifetz goes on to say, “To make progress, not only must invention and action change circumstances to align reality with values, but the values themselves may also have to change” (p.35). Values change may be the most difficult aspect of any planned or unexpected change.


In organizations, like schools, we often mark change by the nature of the beginning of a new initiative. I would say the ending of initiatives as well, but we all know initiatives never really end, we just add one on top of the other. However, I have come to believe change is part and parcel of everyday experience. As noted previously, though change may manifest in tangible ways, like modifying practices and procedures, the crux of change is personal, emotional and often accompanied by a sense of loss.  This is a tricky and complex aspect of organizational culture and requires a leadership skill, I in full disclosure have not yet mastered. In essence, we must embrace a shift in our thinking from change as an event to change as an ongoing natural part of everyday life and recognize the impact it has personally and professionally on individuals.


As William Bridges (2016) so eloquently notes in “Transitions: Making Sense Of Life's Changes,” “Nothing so undermines organizational change as the failure to think through the losses people face.” Educators often feel a sense of loss when change initiatives are introduced. Bridges (2016) calls this time or phase in the change process “the ending.” Leaders need to acknowledge this individual and collective experience by helping people to navigate through this unsettling time. By acknowledging openly and empathetically a person’s sense of loss a leader can help them come to terms with the loss and prepare for the second transition phase, “the neutral zone.” This phase is marked by the repatterning of one's thinking, a realignment if you will. Additionally, the neutral zone is a time people may feel highly anxious about the future. Thus, if a leader provides appropriate support through what Petriglieri (2020) calls “the psychology of leadership holding” and focuses the work on short term systems goals, it can also be a time of high creativity. The key as with all times of uncertainty is for leaders to communicate openly, honestly and often. The final transition phase according to Bridges (2016) is “the new beginning.” This is a time of renewed purpose focusing energy on the work of change. Visioning, planning and collaboration are key components of this transition phase and a constant reinforcement of what is new and will be required for sustainability. 


Alex Shevrin Venet (2024) writes in her recently published book, “Becoming an Everyday Changemaker: Healing and Justice at School”, “Trauma isn’t the only reason people have a hard time with change, but it certainly doesn't make change any easier” (p.4). Like her first book, “Equity-Centered Trauma-Informed Education”, Venet provides practitioner-based anecdotes and examples to support very practical and understandable recommendations for addressing the complex topic of trauma as it relates to school change. She shares three larger beliefs about changemaking: “change happens through relationships and connections; change happens when we slow down and reflect; change requires us to be open to unexpected connections and to orient ourselves to the world of curiosity” (pp.11-12). Her advice to leaders and teachers is, “We need to be present for change to embrace its power, avoid its pitfalls, and open up its possibilities. Being present requires that we show up for change with intention” (Venet, 2024, p.13). This is a critically important point and part of a shift in how we view change from something done to us to something we are engaged in. 


I will wrap up my final View From Here by asking a question, how can we place change in its rightful place as not something done to us, but something we engage in as a part of our everyday life experiences? When I consider this question it brings me back to an earlier point about changing our values. This leads me to another question, what do we want to model for our colleagues and perhaps more importantly for our students about being open to new ideas, flexible and adaptable at the core of our belief systems? As Margaret Wheatley (1996) suggests, “If we want to change what has come into form, we need to explore the self that has created what we see. All change - both individual and organizational - requires a change in the meaning that the system is enacting. It requires looking into the system’s identity, the self through which it perceives and creates” (p.100). 


As I depart CASDA I want to thank you for your commitment to the children and families you serve. Best of luck in all you do in the future years to come. It has been a pleasure to share my thoughts with you!

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