Amanda Koonlaba | December 2019

Be the Change

They say change is inevitable. That change makes us stronger. When I was younger, I loathed those sorts of adages. I thought them to be generalizations of the human experience. Then, I became a teacher. 

Change as a Novice Educator

At first, it seemed like every school year brought monumental changes. These seemed insurmountable to a newbie teacher. I’d just figured out the last insurmountable thing. Now, here I was being asked to not only adjust to change brought on by some new initiative but also do it with unsurpassed exceptionalism! 

I couldn’t wrap my head around all the change until I’d hung around the profession long enough to be able to do some things by muscle memory and discern what parts of the new things to implement. That there was always something new to learn became something I accepted, and I began to see that the new things inevitably made me a better teacher. So yeah, change did seem to be inevitable. Once I’d stuck with my work long enough to embrace it, I was definitely a much stronger teacher.

Change and Growth

Do you know what else they say about change? Well, Mahatma Ghandi said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” And Margaret Mead is often credited with saying, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

I had been teaching for about six years when one of the biggest changes of my career hit. I took a position as an art teacher in a school across town from where I’d been teaching first grade. Not only did I have more students total, I had considerably more students in my classroom at a time. They were also older, as my new school was for second through fifth grades. 

I guess I’d been in a teaching bubble for the first six years of my career because the school where I worked was so arts-integrated, the arts culture oozed from the walls. My new school hadn’t yet started its arts integration journey, and I’d never seen such inequity in my life.

It was nothing short of an awakening.

A Realization

Looking back now, I was so lucky to be the art teacher at that school at the very time administrators decided they wanted to implement an arts integration initiative. I got to witness the kind of change Mead and Ghandi were talking about. 

I’ll never shy away from scaling up the change that school underwent to the likes of Ghandi and Mead. I’ll never shy away from using big language like that to explain the change I underwent as an educator either. For those of us who worked to build that arts integration program to change the complete culture of the school, the change was that important. We wished to see our school ooze an arts culture from the walls and to see our students thrive through the arts. We were a group of citizens invested in our school who were committed to driving that change

The school, the students, and all of the adults who worked so hard through that cultural change are all the better for it. 

Advice on Change

As 2019 comes to a close, I reflect on the changes that are inevitable as a result. If I could give my younger teacher self some advice, here’s what I would say:

  1. There is no other way to grow but to embrace change. If you want to grow, if you want to be the best teacher you can be, if you want to reach as many people as possible, you have to look at change like you are the luckiest person alive to experience it.
  2. If you think you can’t possibly make it through this massive bout of change, try to make it through the next five minutes. Once you’ve accomplished that, try five more.
  3. No two people are going to experience change the same way. However, there are many things that are common in the human experience. It doesn’t generalize the human experience to acknowledge that. In fact, it can give us the courage to realize that if other human beings have survived these changes, so will we!

Acknowledge That Teaching is Hard

Teaching is hard. The immense changes that come with life coupled with the changes that come with teaching can get us down at times. Admit that to yourself. Admit it to others if you need to. Just know that you are not alone. You will never be alone. 

Try to focus on the good change brings. When it gets tough to do that, reach out! We want what is best for you and your students and we are here to support you. We can be the change!

About the Author

Amanda Koonlaba, Ed. S. is an educator and educational consultant with over 12 years of experience teaching both visual art and regular education. Her career has been driven by the power of the arts to reach all learners. She is a published author and frequent speaker/presenter at education conferences. Amanda was named the Elementary Art Teacher of the Year for the state of Mississippi in 2016 and received the Arts Integration Service Award from the Mississippi Whole Schools Initiative (Mississippi Arts Commission) in 2015. She holds an Elementary and Middle Childhood Art certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. As a coach for The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM, Amanda is on a mission to ensure every student in America has access to a high-quality arts-based education. She blogs at SimpleArtClass.com