Instructional, PD, Personal

Take a Leap, Jump Out of Your Comfort Zone

As I have participated in a variety of educational Twitter chats this week, I have noticed one common idea among all of the educators.  For educators, this idea could be terrifying or unnerving.  It could be intimidating and potentially frustrating.  However, it also has the ability to create and implement educational strategies that are highly effective and engaging for students.

Live outside your comfort zone.  Try new things.  Take a leap.  Fail, but fail forward.  Be comfortable being uncomfortable.

Picture from Quote Fancy.

Alright, I guess this is actually several ideas, but the impact is quite powerful.  The only way we can grow is if we move outside of our comfort zone by trying something new without the fear of failure.  For myself, this is quite difficult.  By nature, I am a perfectionist.  Perfection is unattainable since, at one point or other, everyone will have a moment when they fail.  It’s what we do in those moments, however, that really count.

As I reflect upon my seven years of teaching, I can say, without any doubt in my mind, that the years that I have grown the most are the years in which I have tried new things in my classroom without worrying about whether the lessons I have created will fail.  Years ago, I worked at a school where the lessons were completely scripted.  When I was hired as a teacher, I was told, “These are the lessons that you will teach, these are the days you will teach them, this is the homework you will assign, and here are the tests that you will administer.”  As a young teacher, I thought that it was great that I was being given so much material.  After all, I could walk into my classroom on Day 1 and know exactly what I was going to do until Day 180.  Sounds great, right?  Although this might sound encouraging to some teachers, I quickly outgrew this model of education.  I wasn’t excited about education.  I wasn’t excited to go to work each day.  I was bored.  If I was bored, how did my students feel?

That was the year I almost quit teaching.  As I write that sentence, it seems so blunt and surreal.  If you get to know me, I love education and teaching.  To think that I might have quit teaching is startling.

Fortunately, I was encouraged to apply to the district in which I am currently employed.  It was the best decision of my educational career.  When I began teaching at my site, I was given so much support from the my department and administers.  I was encouraged to try new things and take risks within my classroom.  From this school climate, I grew more as a teacher within a year than I had within my first three years of teaching.  Now, nearly four years later, I have created and implemented many lessons, activities, and projects that were completely out of my comfort zone but produced some of my best teaching experiences and, hopefully, amazing learning experiences for my students.

Picture from Quote Fancy.

My students have completed school wide statistical research projects, built cities from geometrical figures, created and designed life size Post-It murals, and developed monthly financial plans.  More recently, they began investing a virtual $100,000 into the stock market.  They have been tracking their portfolio information and using a variety of mathematical skills to chart and analyze the performance of stocks.  My students have participated in a flipped classroom, where they take their notes from home and complete more practice and projects in class.  They have participated in inquiry-based, student-led tutorials to understand their confusion on math concepts.  Our seating charts are never the same, the classroom layout can change daily, and students have a choice in how they pace their progress each week.

Initially, all of these lessons, activities, projects, and strategies were so far out of my comfort zone.  At moments, I was worried that it wouldn’t be successful or that someone really important (you know those people!) would walk in during one of these moments of failure.

Did everything work perfectly the first time it was implemented within my classroom?  Sometimes, but sometimes not.  However, it is in those moments, the moments in which we fail, that we can grow the most.  It’s okay to fail, just don’t give up.  Learn from it.  Grow from it.  Modify, adjust, and move on.  Use it as an experience to grow as an educator.  It’s okay to fail…Just never, ever give up.

Picture from Quote Fancy.

As you are reading this, perhaps you are thinking, “I’m not sure I can do this.  I’m not sure I cannot live outside of my comfort zone.  I’m not sure that I want to.”  Then let me leave you with this one, final thought: “Your comfort zone is your danger zone.”  I always say that I never want the moment to come when I am “comfortable” or feel like I have it all “figured out”.  If that moment comes, I have lost the ability to learn and to grow.  I’ve lost the ability to come up with some truly unique ideas and educational opportunities for my students.  I’ve lost the opportunity for myself and my students to grow.

Never live in your comfort zone or you will have lost the passion and innovation that makes you an effective educator.

Live outside your comfort zone.  Try new things.  Take a leap.  Fail, but fail forward.  Be comfortable being uncomfortable.




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