“The road to comfort is crowded and it rarely gets you there. Ironically, it’s those who seek out discomfort that are able to make a difference and find their footing. Discomfort brings engagement and change. Discomfort means you’re doing something that others are unlikely to do because they’re busy hiding out in the comfortable zone.” – Seth Godin (Linchpin)

Discomfort is something that most of us do not actively seek. Yet, when transformation is required and change is necessary, discomfort is exactly where we need to be. Gaining a growth mindset, stretching our limits and activating our own learning requires us to get out of our comfort zone. It will feel foreign, it may cause some anxiety but in the end it is the only path to betterment. No deep learning comes without a time of discomfort!

But discomfort in itself, cannot lead the change process. Discomfort for the individual must be accompanied by support in the system.

“Transformation requires a culture of discomfort within a safe and trusting environment!”

Organizations must create environments where innovators feel safe in discomfort. Leaders must be very clear in their messaging and their actions that innovation is sought after, mistakes are expected and discomfort is the norm. That support is critical to ensure that acceptable risk taking is present and ideas are constantly percolating.

“Discomfort is not about thinking outside the box, it is about creating a new box that is flexible to meet the needs of the organization.”

Education has been in the same box for over 100 years and most changes have been tweaks or superficial at best. In Alberta, two examples of “creating a new box” focus on the redesign of high school and the curriculum. Both of these visionary initiatives are causing significant discomfort in systems. Innovative timetabling to create flexible learning environments challenges our engrained practice of 8- 40 minute or 4- 80 minute periods. Asking teachers to create cross curricular connections, focus on essential outcomes and go deep with learning  as opposed to covering every bullet in the program of studies may be liberating but also extremely uncomfortable to those who have always done it that way!

Support is a non-negotiable in order to allow discomfort to flourish and systemic change to be abundant. Permission must be granted to create a new box. But, permission granted must be permission taken.  When an education system has provided a safe and trusting environment for discomfort, educators must get uncomfortable. They must look for opportunities to create rather than barriers to uphold.

When I recently addressed an audience of high school educators regarding our flexibility projects, I made it clear that they could find a 100 reasons or barriers not to try it. It is far safer and much easier to remain as we are, point fingers and blame outside forces. But the opportunity to create the new box, to build the system we really want, knowing fully that it will cause discomfort, well…

Schools are full of educators who can create the new box. Innovation and creativity are just waiting to be unleashed. All we need is less resistance and a desire for discomfort!


1 comment

    • Don Flaig on January 31, 2014 at 9:02 AM
    • Reply

    You would think, after 25+ years in the classroom, that I would be very “discomfited” with the transformation of my classroom that must take place to meet the needs of my students at this time of rapid change. You would think that my student teachers would be already on the crest of the wave. It appears that the youngsters entering the profession, at least in my experience, are still cast in the mould of yesteryear. While I find transforming my teaching to be a challenge, the discomfort comes from the time it is taking me to get there. Bring it! I say, It’s like an ever-receding horizon. The time for the rebuild is upon us, and has been for some time.

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