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I’ll admit it. I hate change. At least at first. Especially when it’s unexpected. Just as The Creature from the Black Lagoon is something that you’d never expect to come out of your water, change can pop up and there’s no denying its existence. Even when it’s for the better. I worked for several years as a librarian assistant in Tampa, FL. Every morning as staff arrived the first thing we would do is check the daily schedule. This was the 90’s so libraries weren’t as technologically helpful as today. Let’s just state right now that my nickname was Major Bellows (after the I Dream of Jeannie character) because my voice carried the farthest when announcing the arrival at the front desk of a patron’s request from the third floor periodical archives. We didn’t have permission to use a microphone for these announcements. Front circulation desk time was taxing, but you were one of three people on the desk so it was sociable and fun. The back circulation desk put you in the Business Science Technology (BST) library, a no man’s land, with unfriendly reference librarians and you as the sole operator of that circulation desk. Utopia was working the stacks aka the third floor periodicals. A pneumatic tube would arrive with a patron’s request, you wandered through the alphabetized newspapers and magazines to find the correct issue, put it and the request slip on the dumbwaiter and sent it down. The public wasn’t allowed up here. The librarian assistant’s all had their desks here. Anyone on a break was in this area and it was a time to listen to the radio and catch up with friends whilst still putting away returned archived items and filling requests. All this explanation to point out that anyone calling in sick or late required the schedule to be changed. I could have 3 hrs on the BST back desk and 3 on front circulation followed by looking for”claims returned” items (books that a patron insists that they have returned but somehow it was never scanned back in). Someone’s absence could change my day to no hours in BST and 3 hours in 3rd floor periodicals, making my day much better but my initial reaction to the changed schedule was an internal bristling. I don’t know why I didn’t immediately go to the happy place.
Of course, sometimes change is not for the better, or at least that is the way you or I perceive it. My mom remarried when I was in 7th grade. I loved where I lived, I had great friends, was in Girl Scouts, showed horses in jumping competitions, etc. My parents were commuting between where we lived on the upper mainline of Philadelphia to where my stepfather lived in central PA outside of Harrisburg. My parents bought a lot of land, built a house and prior to 8th grade we moved. I left behind all that was near and dear to me, and became the “new kid”. It was uncomfortable, and I resisted it, finding fault with all that was new. We’d lived in Devon, PA, home of the Devon Horse Show, and for years I’d dreamed of the day that I would compete there. When we moved we left behind TB, my wonderful horse. She’d been abandoned by her previous owners and left at the stables where I took lessons and also worked. I fell in love with her and rode her all the time and started jumping with her. Her name, TB, stood for thoroughbred, because she hadn’t been a jumper but a racehorse; she even had the racing tattoo inside of her bottom lip. Her owners had named her Misfit but I didn’t like that and just called her TB. She followed me everywhere without a lead. Once, when visiting me at the stables, my mother was scared to find this 16 hand horse (a hand is 4 inches and the way horses and ponies are measured, from ground to withers) following me everywhere, stopping behind me to put her muzzle on my shoulder whenever I stood still. She had no halter on, there was no way I could control her, but I trusted her completely and it was totally reciprocal. As an adult looking back, if it were my daughter, I might be concerned.
Not to be outdone, my stepfather tried to share the beauty of his part of the state. He said “We might not have the Devon Horse Show, but we have the Pennsylvania Farm Show.” My parents took me, trying to cheer me up about missing the horse show, but I was horrified. The Farm Show is for promoting Pennsylvania’s agriculture as well as a place for 4-H kids to show off their accomplishments. Instead of horse jumping I was walking through rooms full of chickens in cages. I never knew there were so many varieties. This was followed by rooms full of sheep in pens, then rooms of pigs in pens (the piglets were adorable and then I’d see the sign that they’d been bought by a meat company already) and this was followed by the room of cows. Let’s just admit the smell in the place was overwhelming but hey, they are farm animals. I did like seeing these animals, I didn’t like knowing some of them weren’t returning home (kept hoping Charlotte, the spider of Charlotte’s Web fame, would spin a web saying “Some Pig” over one of the pens but no such luck). They did have horses – there was cart pulling and handling the draft horses, and a rodeo exhibit. But no show jumping and dressage, the world from which I came. Being a moody teen at the time, my disgust boiled down to “these people ride western, I ride English” accompanied by a snobby little tilt of my head. I did enjoy things like the sheep to shawl competition. They literally sheared the sheep, cleaned the wool, carded the wool, turned it into yarn and then they used spinning wheels and made gorgeous shawls which were auctioned off at the end. The farm show is also know for it’s food (not healthy food but great tasting, lots of milkshakes and buttery things, funnel cake and also famous for its donuts).
What does all this have to do with Instructional Design I hear you asking? Maybe nothing. But I look back at this horse show vs. farm show event as an example of a refusal to change, to transform my mind and myself. Granted I was a teenager, not an adult, therefore I give my adolescent self forgiveness for her attitude. But had I been open, had I kept my experiences from the Devon Horse Show but allowed myself to truly experience the new and strange (to me, culturally unfamiliar) events at the farm show, my time there could have been totally different. I didn’t look at it as a new experience to enjoy, rather I saw it as a failure the moment I saw chickens. I was measuring two totally different things against each other. I was not allowing my mind to grow, to transform, to embrace the new. My experiential part was locked and refusing to move forward at that time due to stubbornness and the way my adolescent mind was working. I wasn’t using autonomous thinking, I was securely tucked away in peer pressure and the “that is so not cool” mindset. There was also an element of cultural bias – coming from a world of show jumping and steeplechases, where people owned horses but heaven’s, not swine and cows. Never mind that the people who show their animals at the farm show are the same farmers without whom there would not be food on our tables.
According to Merriam (2004) I lacked the two prerequisites for transformational learning at this time: to critically self-reflect on our own assumptions as well as those of others ” and “to engage in reflective discourse with others…..to examine alternative perspectives, withhold premature judgment, and basically to think dialectically, a characteristic or mature cognitive development”. Kegan and Lahey (2009) posit that mental complexity continues to grow in adulthood. “Coping and dealing involve adding new skills or widening our repetoire of responses” which is part of the potential trajectory of mental development across the lifespan. At this point in the lifespan I was at the lowest of the three levels: the socialized mind (i.e. seeking direction and reliant on others).
But my job as a librarian assistant was when I was already working, living independently as an adult. Why did I react so negatively to something even when I could see that, at times, the change for me was for the better? Sometimes my schedule wasn’t even changed. Still the mere phrase “Someone called in, they’re changing the schedule” was enough to send me into a cross between slight panic and moodiness. I would like to believe at this point I had moved on to the second stage of Kegan and Lahey’s levels of of adult mental complexity, that of the self-authoring mind. I was living independently, working, paying my own bills, working in dog rescue so my decisions affected not only me but my furry family, etc. My self -authoring mind allowed the information I sought to come through (schedule, any changes, how will it affect me). Unlike the self-transforming mind where one thinks not only of themselves but sees the big picture and thinks how can this relate “upstream”, I was not there. Am I there now? At times. I have glimmers of it, but I fluctuate back and forth between self authoring and self transforming. I find the times I am more on the self transforming end I have calm in my life, I’m not stressed at the moment that I receive news, therefore I need to seek clarity, think before speaking, and allow myself, no, not allow but encourage my self to think of the whole picture before I react emotionally, or in any way. The key to all of it is mindfulness, reflecting before reacting.
A single mom, cancer survivor, proud of both sides of her Scandinavian/Puerto Rican heritage, whose sense of humor, friends, and faith have helped her navigate life. None of it would mean anything without my daughter and our furry family members.