by Dr. Misty Vetter
Molly was a 5th grader with autism who thrived on routine and predictability. In her elementary school, the cafeteria staff wore the same color shirt (i.e., red on Mondays, blue on Tuesdays, etc.) every day but Friday. On Friday, they got to wear whatever color they wanted to wear. This was very upsetting to Molly. After several difficult moments in the cafeteria on Fridays, her teacher allowed her to start visiting the cafeteria on Friday mornings to take inventory of the colors of shirts. This helped her get out of her comfort zone and adapt to the situation.
The reality is we are all just like Molly at times. We tend to be creatures of habit. We often take the same routes, order the same food, and sit in the same seats. We thrive on routine and predictability. But are we missing out on amazing opportunities in order to be comfortable? Perhaps sitting in a new seat, we will meet someone we would not have gotten to meet otherwise. Perhaps eating a new food, we’ll discover a love for a new cuisine. Perhaps driving a new route, we’ll discover a cool little coffee shop that we didn’t know existed.
The bottom line is that our lives can be fuller if we learn to be adaptable. Adaptability is more than just being flexible or being willing to change. In fact, Angela Maiers, author of Classroom Habitudes, defines adaptability as “using change as a growth opportunity.” Angela also states that when we anticipate change, we have more control over it. Change is often unavoidable. Do you run from it? Or do you embrace it and learn from it? We can choose how adaptable we will be.
In the classroom, teachers must be adaptable. Classrooms are living, breathing things that change daily. If we expect that every day will look the same, we will be very shocked by the outcome. Though we talk about the importance of routines and procedures in the classroom, adaptability within the classroom has many benefits as well.
- Adaptability allows us to be flexible with students with different learning needs. These students often have accommodations that are helpful to them, but as teachers we can make additional changes to our lessons and activities that may help them be successful. For example, allowing a student to choose how they will present a project (i.e., written work, artwork, skits) or allowing a student to work with a peer versus working alone.
- Adaptability allows us take advantage of learning opportunities that we hadn’t put into our lesson plans. Incidental learning opportunities are those that come up during an activity that we had not necessarily planned. These make get us off topic, but can result in enhanced learning.
- Adaptability allows us to model a different approach to learning. Adaptable learners approach tasks with an open mind and flexible thinking. They may come up with more creative ways to solve problems and may find more opportunities for learning.
Think back to my story about Molly. A simple strategy helped her to be adaptable. What strategy would help you to have adaptability in your life or in your classroom? I challenge you to choose one way you will embrace change in the next month. Some suggestions include incorporating a new technique into your lesson, using technology to enhance learning, or collaborating with colleagues to get new ideas. Good luck getting out of your comfort zone! The benefits to you and your students will be well worth it!