Beyond Comfort

This week I was forced to work outside of my comfort zone: presenting on a topic and to an audience beyond my typical area of expertise.

The experience challenged me, nudged me into thinking a little differently. It also caused some level of anxiety: wanting to maintain high standards for myself and yet somewhat unsure of how to do so. I spent more time planning than I normally do. More time reflecting, researching, experimenting, and reflecting some more before revising.

I took the necessary risks and put myself out there: I even came home unscathed at the end of the day! If I’m honest, perhaps I experienced a greater sense of accomplishment because the task was challenging. I didn’t ask for the challenge, but I am better for it.

When I returned to my comfort zone later in the week – my area of passion, an appropriate audience – confidence replaced anxiety.

I wonder how many of our students feel like they’re in their comfort zones in school. (Those students to whom academics comes easily.) I wonder how many of them move in and out of their comfort zones like I did this week. (Those students who have strengths in some areas of study and not others, for instance.) I wonder how many never quite feel like they’re in an area of comfort. (Those students for whom academics is a continual struggle.)

Imagine the emotion, the self-talk, and the challenges for these students. Imagine the fatigue.

Given this reality, what can we do in our classrooms to support all students? How do we inspire a sense of pride and accomplishment when students persevere? How can we ensure a level of security and encouragement so that students are willing to take risks, to challenge themselves, to make mistakes?

Push your students out of their comfort zones, but when you do, ensure the safety net is visible.

Masters of Craft

During the last seven days I’ve been utterly spoiled: surrounded by the creations of masters.

We were privileged to see three plays on Broadway (and one at the Citadel which is soon heading to Broadway): the combined craft of the writers, directors, actors, singers, dancers, costume designers, set designers, musicians, lighting and sound designers, created stunning results.

We attended a taping of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert where we watched a master comedian at work, using humour to make the news more palatable, contributing his voice to a collective conversation.

We also visited several galleries where we saw paintings, sculpture, glasswork, ceramics, and furniture all created by masters of their crafts: Degas, Van Gogh, Monet, Bouguereau, and Klimt being some of my favourites.

Surrounded by these masterful works of art, I was inspired.

What does this have to do with our classrooms?

Teaching, too, is a craft. Consider this: have you ever watched a master teacher at work? Have you marvelled at a teacher’s (seemingly effortless) ability to inform, engage, and provoke thought? Have you observed this teacher connecting with students, building trust, and ensuring that each student feels respected, valued, and loved? Have you ever watched a passionate teacher inspire creativity, diligence, and rigour?

These masters of their craft may not create a tangible product such as a painting or a play. And yet, these masters help to create confident, compassionate, and thoughtful citizens.

When we teach, reflect, continue to learn and adjust, we too, can improve our craft. When we are intentional, when we are present in the moment, when we are passionate, we can inspire students to become excited about learning and confident in themselves.

A craft worth honing to be sure.

On a scale of 1-10…

I heard a question recently: On a scale of 1 – 10, how meaningful is your career?

My own answer was immediate: 10. I’m fortunate, I know. I believe strongly in what we do as educators. I believe in our ability to empower our students through literacy. I believe that we influence students beyond the curriculum.

But sometimes amid the pressure, the paperwork, or the politics, we may lose sight of why we do what we do.

It is when I am surrounded by students that I know that my career is meaningful. Last week, a grade one student who I had only met about half an hour prior, came to me in tears, “Can you help me?” We worked together for the next few minutes. He trusted me enough to ask for help and I didn’t leave before I saw a smile. It was a small moment, yes. And yet, if he hadn’t reached out, it may have turned into a big moment for that six-year-old.

Our work matters.

On a scale of 1 – 10, how meaningful is your career?

A Confession

I have a confession to make: I cancelled three social engagements this week because I was swamped with work and trying to meet deadlines.

I know this is not good balance. I know I need to look after myself in order to give my best to others. I know, I know.

And yet… three times… I cancelled. I’ve also neglected exercise. No time, I’ve told myself. Is this week unique? Sadly, no.

I also know I’m not alone. I’m surrounded by many teachers who invest endless hours in the evenings and weekends to give the best to their students. Sometimes it feels like we give and give and give…

My Pembroke author colleague, Lisa Bush, wrote Teaching Well: How healthy, empowered teachers lead to thriving, successful classrooms. I’ve been thinking about her a lot this week. So today I returned to her book:

“If we are going to be in the teaching profession for years – or decades – wellness is not a luxury. It is a basic necessity.” “If we want to be the best possible versions of ourselves, we must put our wellness as teachers as a top priority.”

And so, this week, I’m going to strive for balance. I’m going to stop working at a decent hour each day. I’m going to carve out some time to exercise. I’m also going to reschedule at least one of the social engagements I bailed on last week. I might even fly to New York on Friday night. (Okay, that last one was planned…)