Last September, the California governor signed Assembly Bill 1732 which adds an article to the Health and Safety Code relating to restrooms in a public building. This bill will, commencing March 1, 2017, require all single-user toilet facilities in any business establishment to be identified as all-gender toilet facilities. Our facility at The AIMS Center is required to comply with this new code regulation. Ugh… we just completed our renovation and we already have to change. New signs are on the way.
Knowing that this is happening soon, I purchased white, half-round tables to be put into each of our renovated restrooms. I did not tell anyone, I just did it. In my mind, we needed a place to set a box of Kleenex, some air freshener, etc. This fits well into my understanding of what we need in a restroom. What I did not consider, is that the men in our office might not feel the need for a table. One of our male colleagues told me that the first time he walked into the restroom, he saw the table and quickly backed out thinking that he had inadvertently walked into the women’s restroom. I told him about the new bill that will be changing things up, but he said that he is still having to get used to the change. Change is hard.
A group of us were discussing our charge of translating the research that we have been learning into structures and practices that teachers will embrace. We talked about how hard it will be for some teachers to change and I realized that asking teachers to change the way they teach is very much like the change in our restrooms. Once we repeatedly experience something and establish a pattern, an expectation, or a scheme for how we understand it, it is very difficult to change. Why is that?
I recently read a blog post by Mona Fishbane, PhD, a specialist in interpersonal neurobiology entitled “Why Change Is So Hard: The Power of Habit in the Human Brain”. She reinforces that the more we do something, the more likely we will continue doing that thing. We build our schemes through our experiences and until they are no longer viable we do not see a need to change or modify our scheme. This is why it is so difficult to change. This is why a teacher who has found success (by their own definition) over 15-20 years of teaching is reticent to change the way they teach. Teachers have said for years, “Why mess with something that is working?” The question is, is IT working well enough?
Dr. Fishbane talks about humans being creatures of habit, but she also contends that we are creatures of change and adaptation. “It is empowering to know that we can change bad habits and learn new skills throughout life; we don’t have to be victims of our past or of our genes,” says Dr. Fishbane. “But it’s much harder for the adult brain to change than the child’s brain.” Change is hard. But, when children’s futures are at stake, change is worth it. At the AIMS Center, we believe that the difficulty is worth it! We believe that the children are worth it! And… I really like the new tables…