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.