When Tradition Must Fall

James& Katie

In preparation for my fifth year of teaching, I’ve dedicated a hefty amount of time to thinking about the traditions we have in our program. Many of which were started well before I came.

Traditions are not inherently bad. They can, when healthy and purposeful, be an asset in building a strong culture. Then sometimes, our traditions no longer reflect the needs of the communities we serve and is a barrier in creating the culture we desire.

Heart checking tradition with a phrasing litmus test can reveal if it’s time to rethink the purpose of the tradition or root it out completely.

If we hear or say these phrases, let’s take pause:

  • “We have always done it that way.”
  • “They are expecting us to do that.”
  • “It was that way when I came here.”
  • “Why would we change that?”
  • “Don’t break what’s not broken.”
  • “So and so will be really upset if we don’t do it.”

These phrases proliferate widely, I’ve been guilty of dropping them when I’m protecting a tradition dear to my heart. Yet, that is the core of the issue.

All these phrases reflect a sense of insecurity and complacency. The focus of these phrases is on less how the tradition will support community growth and more on providing comfort for the status quo.

If a tradition is worth continuing, it must add value in building the culture we seek. That requires answering tough, honest questions.

Why do we have this tradition? What value does it add for our community? How could this tradition be transformed to bring in line with where our organization is heading?

Traditions are much like the seasons experienced by a tree.

There is always a season where traditions are alive and healthy. Feeding the foundations of our organizations and providing for growth. As time progresses and change in our organization takes place these traditions can become stale and hang-on for dear life.

Trees naturally prune leaves off during the fall season. They do this to protect the tree and prepare for the next season. Trees are simply amazing!

(Interesting link to an article on this exact subject: https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=114288700)

The seasons of our organizations must act much the same way. Pruning back the traditions and preserving our history in the imprint of our organizations growth rings.

Just as the changing of a season does not and should not happen overnight. The pace of changing tradition should be dictated by what works best for each of our respective organizations and what we can feasibly accomplish.

Most times these conversations will not occur without permission. Therefore, let us be gracious and open to questioning our traditions. Let us be healthy models of reflective practice.

Our organizations will grow from that choice and remain a force of nature!

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