Leaving the comfort zone

I spend a lot of time forming relationships with my students throughout the school year, and it is one of the most important things I do as an educator.  It helps me reach them and facilitate their learning to the best of my ability.  I try to consider their preferred learning profile and interests as we discover and grow together.

One goal I have for this coming school year is to make sure I push them out of their comfort zone as well.  Sometimes I get too caught up in trying to make sure they are working in their best possible environment that I forget the power of working in a slightly uncomfortable one.  There is so much growth possible for students when pushed just past what is comfortable.  If the visual-spatial intelligence is their strength, have them work in the linguistic area for awhile.  If a student is a very practical thinker, challenge them to be creative. Get the visual learner out of their seat for a kinesthetic experience.  You may get a lot of weird looks and doubtfulness, but remember you are taking a risk along with them…time to model!

Risk taking is such an important part of the educational process, but it is easy to bypass. Why challenge someone to work outside of their comfort zone when they are perfectly happy where they are? I have to push through the push back and help these kids grow.  We are not always able to work in the best environment, and we must know how to handle adversity.  I must show them growth is the goal and failing is just a natural part of the process. All of us are faced with tasks in our lives that can be seen as uncomfortable, difficult, and even boring.

How do we as educators help them? Let’s model the correct behavior. I am honest with my students about how I handle difficult situations (and it’s not always perfect – I’m a learner too!). Lead them to look at life as countless learning opportunities. Remind them that they are in control of their emotions, actions, decisions, and destiny. Experiences that may seem routine, unimportant, or overly challenging can be turned around at the drop of a hat. Empower your students to take control. Let them in on this little secret – they have the power to make each part of their day (school included) awesome.

If we can successfully help our students handle tough situations, they may just jump at the chance to throw caution to the wind when we ask them to take a risk!

Learning to grow…

I am participating in a twitter book study on Carol Dweck’s book Mindset.  The first chat spurred some reflection and thinking on the idea of growth mindset.  By the time the students arrive to my classroom (ninth grade), many of their mindsets are fixed and I must do something about it.

My students must learn to grow.  Too many of them get to high school thinking things like “I’m not good at math” or “English is easy for me.” Both of these opinions must be changed for true growth to occur.  A student who thinks they are not good at something will give up immediately, leaning on the crutch that they just aren’t able to improve.  The other student assumes they will find success simply based on prior experience with the subject.
But how do we take the two extremes and teach them to grow?  I believe this is a multifaceted process.  It begins with me.  I must maintain a growth mindset for myself and others and it must be obviously present in my classroom.  The kids must see failure as an opportunity for learning, and I must model it.  I need to open myself up to my students, swallow my pride and let them know that I fail, I get up, and I try again.  I must share that I am always learning, changing, and growing with them and that learning never ends.
We as teachers must encourage growth at every level by giving meaningful feedback on student work, not necessarily grades.  Too many students see a grade (letters or numbers) as an endpoint instead of an opportunity for learning. There is no ceiling, the possibilities are endless when we take a risk and try something new.
Moving students from a fixed to a growth mindset is not easy work, but it is essential. Young minds must be opened to the realm of possibilities before them. There is no time to rest on our laurels or hide behind our fears – believe in every kid, they are all amazing!