What do you do when you wake up really early (5:30 AM) on a Saturday morning? The answer of course, for connected educators is to engage in the Twitter chat #satchat. This week the discussion focused on 2012-13 professional development opportunities. Interestingly enough, being connected through Twitter, book studies as well as the “unconference” #edcamp themes were predominant in the discussion. However, an interesting comment from Tom Whitby (almost seemingly coming from left field) really caused me to reflect.
“Comfort zones are roadblocks to educational reform”
Wow! What a powerful statement! How many of us are constantly seeking to find our comfort zone? We all want to find that right flow for our work and our life. And when we find it, we certainly don’t want to move out of it. And yet, based on the comment, it is a roadblock to where we need to go in education. I don’t believe we can take this statement only at face value without further critique. Comfort zones can be widely defined and some should always be a priority. For example, I’m an extremely routine orientated person. This is probably the reason why I don’t do well with long extended holidays. I work best when I’m able to have my early morning workout. For me, this routine provides great comfort and I believe the ability to do my best work. It would be my suggestion that we must all find that comfort zone that allows us to do our best work.
However, I believe what Tom was suggesting in his statement was more a matter of our work. In education, we can ill afford to be overly comfortable in our classrooms, schools and systems. Defaulting to comfortable to me is akin to defaulting to mediocre. A comment by Anthony Mohammed at a Solution Tree conference years ago continues to impact me. In general, he said that people would rather do the wrong thing competently than the right thing incompetently. In the educational world, wrong and right should be more clearly defined as a continuum from mediocre or even good practices to excellent and outstanding practices.
Getting out of our own comfort zone means pushing the envelope, further enhancing our skills and evolving our practice. And believe me, it is uncomfortable! It is uncomfortable because we are far more competent in our current methods. Furthermore, we grown up in a system that has held on to the belief (for far too long) that teachers must know everything and cannot be seen as still learning real time, while in the classroom. And, as 20th century people, we still want to make it perfect before we ever deliver it to our students.
Some individuals can slip out of their own comfort zones and find their new normal with great ease. For others, the thought of moving beyond what they know and what they do is almost paralyzing. The fact though, is without some movement from our comfort zone, educational reform will not occur. Everybody in the educational system needs to begin (or continue) to get out of their comfort zone. This is certainly an attribute for effective leaders. As the lead learner of a very successful school division, I must be prepared to get out of my own comfort zone and lead and facilitate in ways that are new, innovative and creative. This is something that I don’t relish but I know it has to be non-negotiable in my work.
During this school year, I would suggest that all those involved in the educational world look at ways to move themselves from their own comfort zone. To begin with, it doesn’t have to be a radical departure from your current practice but it does require a departure. Be fully aware that you will feel uneasy, but remember that learning, especially deep learning requires that uneasiness. We crawl, then walk and then run! Don’t expect to be running when you depart from your comfort zone. Expect to stumble and likely fall. But in the end, you will be better at your professional practice and students will benefit as educational reform takes hold.
Good luck getting out of your comfort zone!