How we view what is happening to and around us makes a big difference. What we perceive drives how we think, how we respond, and what meaning we assign to it. If we perceive an event or action as a threat, we move to defend ourselves. If we see something happening that we think is an opportunity, we explore how we can exploit and benefit from it. If we believe something has nothing to do with us, we will likely ignore it and move on.
The pandemic offers a profound example of the difference our perceptions make in how we behave, especially from a leadership perspective. How we understood what was happening led us to define what options to explore, plans to develop, and actions to take. Now, looking back at what we hope is an experience that is largely behind us, we can begin to see the difference our perceptions have made in the way we responded, managed, and even leveraged the experience for our organizations.
If we perceived the pandemic as a temporary disruption, we were more likely to put in place temporary structures and strategies to help everyone survive until normalcy returned and old processes and practices could be reinstated. On the other hand, if we saw the pandemic as a break from normalcy that offered opportunities to develop, test, and apply new ideas and approaches, this was a time of excitement, flexibility, and learning. It was a time to grow, accelerate change, and build a new normal.
Seeing the pandemic as a temporary distraction likely meant that our leadership focused on making accommodations for needs, challenges, and expectations only to the extent they were demanded. If we understood the pandemic as a challenge to be met, we focused our communication and actions on imagining, innovating, and creating practices and approaches that would continue to serve the needs of learners well after the pandemic has passed. Our energy was given to getting better, not just getting through.
Similarly, if we viewed the situation as something to survive, requests to set aside traditions and long-standing structures and practices may have been granted as temporary waivers that would expire at the end of the pandemic. Conversely, if we saw the needs for change as reasons to rethink and rework assumptions and traditions that may no longer serve as well as they once did, our response likely focused on how the changes could continue to serve learner and organizational needs into the future.
The consequences of these two perspectives continue to play out as we near the end of the pandemic and we are laying groundwork for what comes next. If we perceived the experience as a temporary disruption to survive, we can expect intense pressure to return to life as it was two years ago. Of course, there will also be expectations to return to much of what existed prior to the pandemic even if we treated the pandemic as an opportunity for reimagination and innovation. Still, we have available an array of new options, approaches, and strategies to improve learner experiences, enhance the work of teachers, and move the organization forward in ways not within reach two years ago.
To be clear, few of us viewed the pandemic exclusively as something to survive or an opportunity to be exploited. Regardless of our perspective on the pandemic experience, there remain opportunities to harvest what was learned and apply the lessons it taught us in ways that move our organizations forward. However, we need to move quickly in either case to identify, protect, and support implementation of these new practices and structures before systems re-calcify and change becomes even more difficult.