I have heard this said a lot lately that we must make ourselves uncomfortable in order to see real growth. That if we only do what we are used to and comfortable with, we will not be able to grow as we are just doing what we have always done. I think the phrase “That’s the way we have always done it” is a dangerous one and it definitely does not fit this idea that it is ok to be uncomfortable as that is the place where we experience growth.
Our students should be a little uncomfortable in the classroom, they should be experiencing new things and should be thinking in new ways. They should not just be able to slide through the class, happy and content because they are not being challenged or given the chance to be challenged. We should make sure that we are designing learning environments that help put the students in new places and challenge them while also making sure they feel comfortable making mistakes and occasionally failing along the way. Failure is another thing that many people are uncomfortable with but it can be such a powerful learning tool. We should be learning from our failures instead of just fearing them.
A good example of this is the fact that I ran a 5K this summer, despite the fact that I am really uncomfortable running, especially in front of people. I stand at just under 6’3″ and weigh in over 280 lbs, which should help you understand how much running is not a natural thing for me. I made a goal to fun a 5K as I had decided I wanted to get into shape and it was something that became part of my growth mindset. I am not a fast runner nor do I look graceful when running but I was not going to let my fear of failing stop me from trying.
As it wasn’t easy for me to run, I know it is not easy for many teachers to use new technology in the classroom. I get told all the time from teachers that they feel uncomfortable when using new technology and they are afraid to fail, especially in front of students. We know that technology is not always going to work and that it does take some effort to learn something new and use it, but that should never stop us from trying. We also must be open to sometimes failing in front of students, even if that makes us uncomfortable, as that is a way that we can model what true learning is like.
There are a lot of different ways that we can design learning experiences for our students that help bring them out of their comfort zone and into the learning zone. A lot of it has to do with how we plan and what we do when the students are in our room. We need to make sure that we transfer the cognitive load onto them and make them the ones doing the majority of the thinking, as that will lead them to doing the majority of the learning. If you are doing a lot more work than your students in the classroom, then I would question how much learning they are doing as opposed to being passive receivers of information. Give students more choices and control in what they do, in how they learn, how they apply or how they assess their learning. Not everything needs to be decided ahead of time, giving students a choice and voice in the classroom is a big way to help them try new things and take that step out of their comfort zone.
While I am sure my running days are over, as far as races go, there are still many things that make me uncomfortable that I will still try. I am constantly filling out proposals to speak at various education and ed tech conferences, despite the fact that I do get uncomfortable speaking in front of others. I do know however that this is a great way for me to learn and to connect with others, which is so important to me in my position. If you do not feel uncomfortable every now and then, then maybe you need to look at how much you are still learning and growing. Do not be content to keep doing what you have always done, as that never leads to growth.