Sometimes we want to do things like lose weight or quit smoking and even though these feel like things we are deeply committed to, more often than not, we find ourselves not being able to stay the course and keep the weight off or make it through the next craving. This does not mean we are bad people. It does not mean that there is something wrong with us. It typically comes down to the other thing that we might be committed to, but do not realize we are committed to, gets in the way of us following the new goal to the end. This is what Kegan and Lahey (2009) described in their concept of Immunity to Change (ITC). The immune system that we developed over time to protect our comfort, our commitments, and our ways of being actually get in the way of our ability to change the deepest and most ingrained habits.
In understanding this concept, we wonder if it was our system’s ITC that got in the way of true transformation. As we saw it, the pandemic provided an opportunity to truly transform an education system based on inequity and compliance into one that was responsive, equitable, and supported the whole child. When we understand the education system, we recognize that the behavior coming from that system is symptomatic of that system itself and any lasting change requires that the entire system itself must change. This change includes the overall function and purpose of the system, the relationships between the elements of the system, as well as with the specific elements themselves. And, yet, with the number of educators and individual school leaders and communities who demanded change and transformation in response to this disorienting dilemma, we find ourselves back in the framework of a traditional education system even if it feels like it might not look the same.
So, we wonder, what might have happened? When it comes to unlocking the true potential of change in a system, Kagan and Lahey (2009) express three necessary ingredients: gut, head and heart, and hand. The gut is the motivating, vital source for change. When we consider having the gut to make the change, it goes beyond the “ought” and “should” realm of inner talk and making sense. There is a visceral feeling of need and desire to make the change. Yet, those that do not accomplish a goal that makes sense usually experience that they do not have the stomach to endure what they imagine will be the unpleasantness of changing. Was it our inability to stomach the discomfort of demanding change, creating change, and sustaining change? Or, did it have something to do with our head and heart?
In order to address our ITC, we must work simultaneously with and engage thinking and feeling. For most, the head and the heart are in discord. Facing adaptive challenges, such as a pandemic, provides a problem space that lies about and below our necks. In order to experience and achieve real, adaptive change, we need to work on both dimensions: thinking about our feelings and feeling our way into new ways of thinking. Did our inability to follow through with transformation get stunted by the discord of head and heart? Or, do we need to take a look at the hand?
When we express the meaning of hand, we describe that there is a simultaneous work around mindset and behavior. It is best described by the saying “conception without inception is paralysis.” Success follows from taking intentional, specific actions that are consistent with our immunity so that we can test our mindset. Testing our mindset through intentional action, data collecting, and interpreting data are core means we use to mine the gap between our intentions and current ability to deliver on them. When we are working on truly adaptive goals, ones that require us to develop our mindsets, we must continually convert what we learn from behavioral changes into changes in our mindsets.
So, where did we miss the mark? Or did we miss the mark? Are we still in the adaptive challenge? Are we stuck at one of these levels that is keeping us from unlocking our potential as educators and leaders? What do you think?
If you are interested in learning more about the education system and ITC, keep your eyes out for our book!