Remember Blockbuster? This company had such a big share of the market we thought it could never go out of business—and yet it did. It was their inability to change course and adapt to and compete with emerging technologies that caused them to be left behind. In truth, there is a lesson there for all of us: People, like businesses and all professional organizations, must embrace change to remain relevant to those they serve. In fact, how well we adapt to change will determine how far we will go.
AQ, or Adaptability Quotient, is a person’s ability to adapt to a fast-changing environment. It is the third leg of the success-predicting stool made up of IQ, EQ, and now AQ. And it may just be the most important of the three. The relevance for us as educators right now couldn’t be more important.
If there was one thing the pandemic has taught us it is the importance of being able to adjust and to do so quickly. Within a week in March of last year, teachers went from teaching in person in their classrooms to teaching online from their computers at home. Few were ready to do so, nor could they even fathom the multitude of challenges they would face teaching from a remote setting. It was, and still is, an emotional maelstrom for both teachers, students, and parents. Those who haven’t been able to adapt remained adrift and are miserable. Those who accepted the inevitable and learned how to navigate the new environment are prevailing, achieving, and learning new skills they will bring into a more normalized environment when it returns. The lesson is clear: Adapt or become obsolete. Adapt or be left behind and left ineffective.
So how do we assess our AQ and what are important strategies for improving it?
First, we need to ask ourselves, “In what areas are we feeling most out of our comfort zone and what are our emotions when we enter these arenas?” Do we push back and refuse to learn and change? Do we spin in a state of resentment because we are being forced to change? Or, do we take a pause, and then take the necessary steps to embrace the change we are confronted with, trying to see the possibilities and the opportunities it presents? In truth, the latter is the only productive stance. The world will not wait for us while we moan and groan, it will move by us quickly.
Second, we can accept the inevitable quickly and start to adapt to it quickly. The longer we wait—refusing to accept what life is presenting us, the harder it will be to find success. Once we accept the conditions we find ourselves in, we can begin to use them to our advantage.
Third, we can sharpen our ability to determine what is relevant and learn to discard what is no longer relevant. Not every change we are confronted with is an important or critical one. Likewise, many of the things we used to think were critical simply are not. In order to make room for the new we need to be able and willing to get rid of those things we are stubbornly holding on to that are bogging us down. These are not often easy things to pinpoint, but we need to be open to them when they are pointed out to us.
Fourth, we can learn to read early signals that we are going to have to adapt and anticipate how soon and exactly how we are going to need to change. It does no good to simply bury our heads in the sand and hope that the change we see on the horizon won’t happen. How much better is it to make friends with the anticipated change and prepare ourselves and our students for it.
Fifth, we can become active “unlearners.” In other words, we can prompt ourselves to challenge what we think we already know, as well as our learned biases, when we are presented with new information. It would be a shame to hold on to the narrow biases we were taught in our youth as we try to navigate a world that has moved passed them.
Sixth, we can become active explorers and tap our natural curiosity to seek what we think might be around the corner. We can also remain dissatisfied with our current teaching practices—even seeking better and more engaging ways to work with young people as we adapt to change, and even because of it.
In truth, the ability to adapt is a key survival skill that we all must embrace, as well as teach to students. It involves maintaining an open mind—even when the mind wants to reject what it is learning. It requires maintaining an open heart, even when one’s feelings get hurt and are dismissed. And it requires developing the will to continuously improve rather than stay in place or regress. If we can do these things and teach our students to do the same, we can look forward to a rich, exciting, and rewarding future in which we are active contributors and not dinosaurs.