Originally published on January 16, 2020
When I was in the 5th grade I moved to a new school in a new state. At this school, there was a Christmas pageant each year and I tried out for it. To my surprise, I got the lead. The theme of the show was Christmas at the Circus and I was cast as the ringleader. I loved it! For years afterward, I wanted to be an actor and participated in performances whenever I had the chance. For some reason, however, when I was in high school, I decided that acting wasn’t for me. Rather than trying to be other people, I wanted to be myself. This is not to take anything away from actors—it was more about developing a comfort with myself. This self-comfort was about learning to not care what other people thought about what I wore or said, what music I liked or books I read. I would still argue that developing confidence with your choices is not just important, but invaluable.
Nevertheless, I wonder how often I have used the guise of being accepting of who I am as a license to stay within my comfort zone and avoid trying new things—not because the new things are different, but because of a fear of discomfort from risk (and possibly even failure). From foods to physical feats, I have gotten out of trying new things because doing it “would not be honoring who I am and I know who I am.” In reality, I can be someone who may not like change, is afraid of looking or sounding dumb, etc.
Yet, in the last week, I participated in some PD that not only made me do things I otherwise would not have, but think about things differently too. Without going into too much detail, I—along with several teachers—we have been learning about story-based learning from Drew Kahn—a theater professor at Buff State who is the brain-child of the Anne Frank Project. He now works with teachers from across western NY and around the world to infuse ways for students to embrace learning through innovative instructional practices that are rooted in theater methods, including, but not limited to a great deal of improv. Thus, for the better part of three days we’ve been standing in a circle and with great vulnerability, using our bodies to show emotion, act out academic terms, and learning how to create safety to do this. We’ve had to rely on each other to build community and to laugh at the imperfections of the learning and growing process.
This reminds me of the Jillian Michael’s quote, which says, “get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” If we can’t achieve this as teachers who are supposed to be role models for our students (and each other), then we should not be surprised when our students are reluctant to give an answer because they’re not sure it’s right or our students don’t want to do the homework on their own because what if it’s wrong. We need to all understand the difference between being uncomfortable and being unsafe. We need to all recognize that the safer we can make things, the easier it will be for all of us to bravely take the chances that matter.
With that, I wonder how you create safety with your students or your colleagues so they can try new things. Can you think of an example when someone has done that for you and the difference that it made? After all, “It’s not because things are difficult that we dare not venture. It’s because we dare not venture that they are difficult” — Seneca.