Monday, April 9, 2018

Gumby Goals: 3 Tips for Stretching Beyond Your Comfort Zone

I have a box in my office where I keep my “stretch” projects.  These are projects that require me to learn something new, step out into the uncomfortable, or leap before I look.  This year, it seems that the majority of these projects have piled up in April, so right now, I’m neck deep in that awkward, awesome feeling of “What in the world have I gotten myself into?!”

There was a time when the thought of not knowing what I was doing or not knowing how something would turn out was terrifying to me.  I am by nature a control freak.  I am comforted by knowing the what, why, when, and how of most situations or tasks.  That’s the thing-I am comforted by those things. Comfort is nice. Comfort is cozy. Comfort is dangerous.  

A few years ago, I read Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly, followed by Seth Godin’s The Icarus Deception, followed by Jen Sincero’s You are a Badass.  A pattern emerged that I couldn’t ignore.  If I wanted to grow, I had to go to scary places. Uncomfortable places. Places beyond my control.  I set out on a mission to get comfortable with fear.  Not just get comfortable with it…….ENJOY it!  Even seek it out! What I have learned (and am still learning) in this quest is that (1) you can LEARN to enjoy fear,  (2) doing so makes you a better at what you do, and (3) not everyone will understand it, but (4) that’s okay...not easy, but okay.

Now, this is the time of year, as a coach, I find that teachers are sometimes more willing to try some new things in their classrooms that they may not have been as comfortable trying before STAAR.  So, if you are in that place where you are standing on the edge of trying, here is are some tips for teaching yourself to take the leap:

Actively seek out a stretch opportunity.  
You’ll know it when you come across these opportunities because they will be the things that your first instinct is to say “no” to.  They will be those things that makes you want to say, “I’m not cut out for that...” or “I’m not good enough for…” or “I don’t know how…”or “what if they….”  Watch this TED Talk by Jia Jiang to see how he learned how to face rejection...and actually like it!

Start “unplanning”.  
This is probably the hardest lesson I have had to learn because I am, by nature, a planner.  Life, however, like our students, doesn’t always adhere to the plan.  In fact, I have a sign in my office that says, “It’s all about how you handle plan B”.  A colleague once gave me a birthday card about having a plan B (even though it wasn’t my birthday) because she said it reminded her of me and how I always said, “Okay, what’s plan B?” While I am still a fan of being prepared, I have come to understand that being prepared means equipping myself with the knowledge and skills to adapt and construct the plan as you go.  As a coach, I have learned to let the situation lead the plan.  I may have a goal, but how we meet the goal has to depend on the situation and the needs of the teachers at the time, and I can’t always plan for that. To do this, there is a level of uncertainty that I have had to get comfortable with. To counter the anxiety of the unknown, I can prepare myself by honing my coaching skills and building my knowledge so that I can adapt to situations, though.  As teachers, consider how you can “unplan” a piece of your lesson to invite a measure of uncertainty into your classroom. Read more about lesson “unplanning” here:

Change the “yes, but…” to “yes, so…”
When uncertainty causes me stress, it is usually because I doubt myself in some way.  Maybe I doubt my ability or my knowledge.  Guess what?...there’s a fix for that: learn how to do it or learn more about it.  The key is to LEARN. My first reaction to most uncomfortable opportunities is to say, “yes I know _____ would be great to do, but_____.”  I have had to train my internal ears to recognize that the, “yes, but” a great sign. That’s a neon sign telling me that THIS is a challenge that I am not comfortable with. It ultimately boils down to a confidence issue or relevance issue--why is this important? Or can I do it? If I’m even considering it, then it must be important, so the block is usually confidence.  Confidence can be LEARNED. It’s simply a matter of changing the “yes, but…” to “yes, so…..”  So, if there is something that is outside of your comfort zone, get comfortable with it by learning as much as you can about it.  Have you wanted to try project-based learning, but you don’t know how it would work? Read up on it and figure out one thing you could do in that direction.  Have you wanted to try a workshop model in your classroom, but you don’t know how you would manage it? Go to some training or do a book study this summer to learn how to make it work.  Have you wanted to blog or join or a Twitter chat, but you don’t know how? Watch Youtube, ask someone, call me!  Just learn.

Just like our bodies, our minds and professional life need to stretch.  It helps us become more flexible, less stressed, and keeps our juices flowing.  My “stretch projects” box is staffed by a full-sized Gumby (a gift from my awesome husband) as a reminder that the “stretch” is what helps us grow. In this season of spring, I hope that you will be inspired to grow in your learning and stretch yourself beyond what you think you are capable of. Your students, and your field, need your stretch!