Your Brain Has To Change First! Why Adapting To Change Takes Much More Than Time...
As I do every year, the start of the summer term has me being pulled in two different directions. I always anticipate the relief from the cold that April will bring (although it still hasn’t) and then feel like time is going too fast.
Because, as the world finally comes back to life, the start of the summer term means we’re also counting down to another ending.
I know most children aren’t in that headspace yet. They’re so much better at living in the moment than their grown-ups. And that they, like most of us, just deal with change as and when it happens anyway.
We’re often ready for the sought after ones – the new job, upgraded car or moving house – but we all know from experience that even the most basic of changes we haven’t planned for – being forced in diverted traffic, or locating the gravy granules after the supermarket has changed the layout (again!) – can turn our brains to jelly.
Anyone who knows me in a professional capacity knows that I wax lyrical about the insane learning capacity of the human brain, its 86 billion neurons, its one million neural connections a second, its neuroplasticity: the capacity to reconfigure and rewire itself until the very end of life…
But it’s a very contrary organ as well, because our brains are also very lazy.
For the occasions when we need to make make rapid sense of information, retrieve learning, draw on experience or function on autopilot, Mother Nature gave us a very efficient asset.
It’s downfall is, that when faced with the unfamiliar – especially when multiple changes are occurring simultaneously and/or they challenge us emotionally – it doesn’t have the pathways in place to process that.
Our heads can start to feel like like spaghetti junction for very good reason.
Hence ‘change-management’ isn’t just a primary-secondary transition issue.
Just a new teacher or classroom, different peers, a revised curriculum, may be enough to knock any child off course.
Not forgetting, of course, that beyond school life, moving house, a new sibling, grief, loss, parental separation etc., problems we may be oblivious to, can all mean serious brain-reshaping.
We seldom appreciate that the challenge is less about new learning, and more about ‘unlearning’.
If we knew just how much the brain itself has to change in order to adapt to change, we’d know why change-management needs far more attention than it gets.
It takes 90 days at the bare minimum, even under the most ideal circumstances. for neural networks to catch up.
Throw in enduring stressors, uncertainty, emotional struggles, vulnerability, maybe neurodiversity, and 2-5 years might be more realistic.
It stands to reason then, that for children with changes afoot in the next few months (or more accurately, in the next two years!) we need to be preparing them now. ‘Transition’ support plays a part, but a half-day here and a visit there doesn’t really cut it.
If we need to know this as professionals, so do parents (and children too IMO, but that’s a different email), so they can play their part in supporting their kids as they navigate the often choppy waters of change.
So whether your setting is nursery, primary, secondary or FE; whether your team or your young people’s parents need to know this, I have in-person or online workshops on the subject of Preparing Children for Change. If you’re interested to know more let me know here.
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