Grow Beyond The C Zone: The Challenge

This Ain’t A Song For The Brokenhearted

A debate recently cropped up on Twitter (shocking) about whether or not “good” teachers spend time thinking about the next school year while on summer break. The debate really centered around the concept of a “good” teacher. One side mentioned that a good teacher might spend some time thinking about next fall. Others declared that good teachers need the time off to rejuvenate and regenerate their passion for education by resting, relaxing, traveling, and spending time with family. I’m not actually going to try to settle this debate, but I am going to challenge both groups.  In my last post, The Danger of Getting Comfy in Our EDU Skins, I explored ways to grow yourself and get out of that place where we are, well, comfortable.

No Silent Prayer For The Faith-Departed

So let’s do this. Start small if you must, but start. Several years ago in my career, my district decided I should teach junior high gifted students along with my other electives. I didn’t know the first thing about that, so they sent me to a summer national differentiation conference. A lot of things changed when I attended this conference, which happened to be in Las Vegas (and they gave me my certificate of completion PRIOR to the conference starting. Who does that? In Vegas?). I was in a session led by Rick Wormelli,  along with several others. While I can’t remember which session and presenter challenged me, I do remember the challenge. Consider yourself, preferences of all kinds, habits, etc. and choose one thing to change. It can be a small change, but you must change. Real change. Huh. What to change? Why change? Simple, I was going to need to work with my gifted kids on their affective domains and push them past their comfort zones. To do that effectively, I needed to push myself out of a comfort zone, and the presenter challenged me to do just that. Challenge accepted.

I Ain’t Gonna Be Just A Face In The Crowd

I thought about where to make the change, and I settled on my wardrobe. I would go shopping for a shirt, and if my first inclination was No way would I wear that, then I would buy it. I picked out a dress shirt for school that I would not have looked at twice if I hadn’t been challenged. I don’t let a challenge go unanswered. Nope. Game on. I wore the shirt on the first day of school, and I explained to my students why I bought it and what I was trying to do. We discussed comfort zones, and I challenged each of them to pick and area and make a change. We did this as a class (small class, but class nonetheless), and we took a few minutes every class period to find out from each other how our changes were going. We gave support and nudges when needed.

You’re Gonna Hear My Voice

I bought more shirts. Now, these shirts were appropriate to teach in, and they were in my style, but the change came with me getting out of my conservative design phase and going bold. I did not pick anything subdued. If the colors or design looked wacky or ugly to me, I bought it. I wore it. I discussed it with my students. A couple of things happened with this comfort zone struggle. I received a lot more compliments with this new choice of shirts, and my students opened up and began to find areas where they could push their own boundaries of comfort. Did we stop with the small changes? Nope. We kept going. Conquer one area then move on to something else. We did this all year and the changes we saw in each other were discussed, celebrated and supported.

When I Shout It Out Loud

I learned a lot that summer while mostly doing the family thing other than that wonderful conference in Las Vegas. I learned that my previous taste in clothing sucked. I still fight that comfort zone, but fight I do. I learned that my students were very interested in my own plight with my comfort zone and pushed me to grow and stretch even as I pushed them. It made things real. We connected. This helped tremendously as we worked through the year to help them explore passions, learn, relate, converse, and constantly seek for ways to grow beyond the comfort zone.

It’s My Life

So instead of debating whether or not you are a good teacher based on if you spend time thinking about the next school year, I challenge you to push out beyond the C Zone. Pick one thing and make a change. Once that becomes comfortable, pick another area and work on that. Before long, you’ll not worry about such debates. You’ll be expanding your growth as an educator and blazing new trails for your students when you return to school, because you now know how to get past that initial discomfort of leaving the C Zone and going off on your own.  You’ve got this. Pick something in your life. Change it.


Partial lyrics from Bon Jovi’s It’s My Life were used as subtitles.

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