The Neutral Zone
According to William Bridges in his book, Transitions:
The neutral zone is when the critical psychological realignments and re-patternings take place. It is the very core of the transition process. This is the time between the old reality and sense of identity and the new one. People are creating new processes and learning what their new roles will be. https://wmbridges.com
Not There Yet
Coming off of COVID, we are all eager to “return to normal.” That won’t happen. According to Bridges, we will mourn the endings, duke it out in this coming neutral zone, and only then be ready to launch into new beginnings.
Traditionally, we feel as leaders that we stand at the top of a normal curve, pivoting to stay on top of the mountain.
Technical challenges have known solutions that rely on expertise.
Today, we often stand in the valley of a
Adaptive challenges require new learning.
Polarities and Paradoxes
Fewer and fewer problems are either / or decisions. More challenges are BOTH / AND dilemmas.
Consider academic impact and relationships (SEL) from a BOTH / AND perspective. Pushing hard on academics (left side) is an imperative. But if we push too hard we confront disadvantages.
The infinity loop shows how we are then pushed to consider the relationship portion of student learning – which also has advantages and disadvantages.
The Neutral Zone provides an opportunity to begin adaptive conversations, shaping and defining the next phase, or “new beginnings,” as Bridges calls them.
Three Questions for leaders to consider:
WHAT systems and student needs are our priorities going forward?
- What is the Neutral Zone challenge we are trying to address so that we can make the right moves toward a positive future?
- Can we focus on BOTH academics AND relationships/SEL?
- Can we address BOTH opportunities AND challenges without falling into a deficit mindset?
HOW can we best engage the full range of our constituents?
- Is this a technical problem, where the community will accept our judgment as leaders?
Can we stand solidly atop the “normal” curve?
- OR, is this an adaptive challenge where the community is sharply divided?
Can we create a holding space (bottom of the “U” curve) where students, teachers, parents, leaders can engage in creative thinking?
WHY … Staying focused on the Big Why—our key purpose—keeps us centered.
- What is the visionary “why” that brings people together?
- What hopes and dreams are we aiming for by July 2022? By December 2022?
Learning to think adaptively and collaborative helps us lead and learn our way forward:
- Model adaptive leadership to grow our team capacity.
- Plan conversations to fully engage key participants.
- Capture and share back the ideas that you hear emerging.
- Build transparency and trust by vetting options publicly.