The Cary Academy Leadership Team went off campus this week for our annual fall retreat — a chance to connect, learn, and plan for our important work together.

In this spirit of positive camaraderie, growth and renewal, I asked the team to read a 2005 Fast Company article by Alan Deutschman called: “Change or Die.

Of course I did.

Deutscham’s piece was part of a larger book of the same name, targeted at organizations and the way we approach change. As a lead in, Deutscham frames the challenge of change from an individual perspective. As one example, he cites a report from Johns Hopkins University that upwards of 90% of patients who have heart bypass surgery are unable to change their base lifestyle behaviors to protect themselves from future recurrences of the disease.

In other words, if the choice is between change or die — we pick death.

Needless to say, the conversation about change and schools at our retreat was not quite so morose, but the point did hit home: Change is hard, even when we know it is good for us.

Change is even harder when we don’t understand exactly what or why we need to change in the first place.

The world of education is in middle of an epic transformation.Technology is giving rise to new ways of accessing knowledge, creating meaning, and sharing ideas. Brain science is giving us a deeper understanding of how learning works, but not a clear enough picture to be able to move confidently forward in any one direction. And our global marketplace is asking us not only to consider learning in a singular local context but within a wider, more complex and interdependent world.

And that’s just for the teachers. What about students?

Never before have we asked so much of our kids. School used to be about the accumulation of accepted knowledge. Much of our school structures, courses, and assessments are still built on this framework — even though things fundamentally have changed. In 1982 Buckminster Fuller outlined the “Knowledge Doubling Curve”– predicting that knowledge will double every 18 months. Turns out, he was too conservative; as often cited IBM research predicts the doubling soon will accelerate to every 12 hours.

What’s a student to do against that backdrop? Study more, of course! And, while they are at it, add a healthy dose of competitive athletics, community service, leadership, and debate tournaments — along with a bevy of social networks to feed, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and Kik.

The overall picture can become overwhelming. And it is. A Phi Delta Kappan article says that only 50% of American children today are hopeful, meaning they believe their future will be better than their parents.

Here at Cary Academy, we’ve recently been talking about the concept of grit and the development of a growth mindset as important skills to prepare students for success in our ever-changing world. Such a mindset is inherently hopeful.

In his 2013 book Making Hope Happen, researcher Shane Lopez cites studies that link our level of hopefulness to tangible signs of success like college graduation rates. Lopez goes on to provide some practical advice on how to nurture hopefulness in ourselves and our children:

  • Create goals that really matter and are inspiring. In “Change or Die” Deutschman says that the goal “not to die” is simply too vague to create a change in behavior. Lopez argues that goals need to be manageable and personally inspiring. Fear is not a positive motivator for change.

  • Find ways to convert hope into action. Deutschman argues that we need to frame change in a way that creates movement, celebrating small wins along the way. Lopez  says we need to be open to feeling the positive emotion of those wins, which can then generate more positive feelings when considering other change.

  • Create and own your plan. Deutschman argues that our brains get hardwired into routine. By creating and owning action plans, rather than following somebody else’s recipe, we can overcome some of those natural tendencies towards inertia and internalize the new patterns. Eventually, a positive cycle is created when we see the benefits of new action thus feeling more hopeful in the future when we are confronted with a new challenge or obstacle.

Even though some of the challenges that confront us seem overwhelming, our Leadership Team left our fall retreat feeling excited about the future for our students and for Cary Academy. We are proud of what our school has become, and we expect that with continued hard work we have even brighter days ahead.

 We left feeling that the message isn’t: Change or Die.

It is: Hope for Change.