Do we dare to live outside our comfort zone enough?
As I have been sitting here through the holidays, beginning to do some work so that I’m not far behind when the first few weeks of school life overwhelms, I realised that in one way I was keeping myself within a healthy comfort zone because I was being organised (something that I love to be) yet I was also pushing myself out of my comfort zone because the work I was doing didn’t come naturally to me. This got me thinking.
Over the last couple of years, education has really emphasised the need to ‘challenge’ all of its pupils. This isn’t new. Surely that’s what every teacher tries to do for every pupil so that they are constantly pushing the boundaries of learning new skills, techniques and knowledge? However, should we consider the fact that challenging pupils may not actually be pushing them out of their comfort zones? For me, children need some kind of teaching of independent skills in order to become independent learners. In order for this to happen, children need safe and secure learning environments.
I saw a quote that reads ‘great things never came from comfort zones’. A very powerful notion that I haven’t stopped thinking about recently. If every time we plan with this in mind, surely this will ensure that learners are being pushed, are being trusted to find things out for themselves and therefore promoting independence and ownership. If children are regularly kept within their comfort zones, a place where they feel happy and safe to poodle along, are they really learning?
I’ll never forget a lesson observation a couple of years ago where I had all the hallmarks a decent lesson should (come on, I’m sure you all know the imaginary tick list we’ve all been drilled to think about) when in feedback, the lead observer said ‘one pupil was really stuck. He sat there thinking for a long time’. My heart sank. I thought that this was going to be a negative because I had let him go for far too long. I was wrong. The observer went on to say that ‘this showed that he was out of his comfort zone and was trying different things to get to the right answer – this challenge is what all pupils need’. I have never forgot it. I know that it is scary letting children sit there thinking, without support, ‘I’m finding this a little too challenging’ but I firmly believe we should try it more often, if not every day. OK, so we don’t want learners to be so far out of their comfort zones that they never learn anything but it emphasises the growth mind set ethos, the positive can-do attitude and the need for developing independent, problem solving skills.
Why have you got a picture of the winter sport curling I hear you ask? This is what I imagine a comfort zone to look like. We push ourselves towards the inner ring which represents the place we find most uncomforting. If we manage to get inside this zone, this is where most learning occurs. If we find ourselves on the outer rings or even worse (god forbid) not in the rings at all, then learning has become lost, stagnant and is limiting.
From now on, I will pledge not just to challenge pupils but to push them firmly out of their comfort zones. This in itself will push me out of my comfort zone and take risks.
I hope this will resonate with many of you and that we can all foster a love of giving not just our pupils but ourselves, a chance to live outside of our comfort zone. Take a risk – try it. I dare you.