Professional Development Opinion

Can Familiarity Breed Mediocrity?

By Starr Sackstein — May 02, 2019 3 min read
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Comfort is both a wonderful and destructive state of being.

On the one hand, being comfortable can foster risk-taking and collaboration, and on the other, it can breed mediocrity. There is a dangerous line we walk the more comfortable we become in our roles, either choosing to use the safety as an opportunity or as a shield against greatness.

Recently, as I listened to Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, I was reminded about how this familiarity can be the Petri dish for all the evils of “good enough” rather than the springboard for the awesomeness we hope for.

As educators, we have an obligation to give our best to our students as often as possible. Granted, our best may fluctuate given our personal circumstances, but that mustn’t dissuade us from putting that effort forward to the best of our abilities.

Each child goes through THIS school year only once, and so we have just the singular opportunity to provide the excellent experience that will promote learning and excitement for the years to come. Regardless of where you are on the teaching spectrum of P-12 or higher education even, if we are responsible for molding the minds of the future, we must find a way to demonstrate what is possible.

When I started my educator journey 18 years ago, I made a solemn promise to myself that if I should ever stop loving teaching, I would stop doing it, as immediately as possible. We serve no one well when we are unhappy or even miserable in what we do. Our jobs are just too important.

Now, I don’t want anyone to think I am suggesting that as human beings, teachers or leaders can’t have bad years, because we can. But just because one year isn’t our best year, doesn’t mean we give up on a career that we love.

Over the course of my time as an educator, I have had many highs and lows. Sometimes that meant it was time for me to find a new home because I wasn’t jiving with leadership or I had outgrown my current situation. We all must make sure we are in the right place at the right time and that fit is everything.

When I landed in my third school, I was certain that this was going to be my forever school family. It was only open one year when I arrived in its second year, and I had the opportunity to grow with it. My colleagues and I grew quite close, and I flourished as a pedagogue and a writer.

But by year four or so, I wasn’t getting the same kind of feedback I did in the beginning, and things started to become stagnant. When leadership wouldn’t give me what I needed, I made sure to seek it out elsewhere. That’s when I got involved with JEA (the Journalism Education Association) and took on a leadership role there. I started presenting at conferences more and I began blogging.

From there, I built out my PLN and started to grow from people outside of my learning community. I learned of national-board certification, and since I knew I couldnt’ go back to college at the time with a young child, I knew this was the most affordable option for the kind of challenge I was seeking.

I spent a year deeply reflecting on my practice, seeking feedback and new opportunities to grow as an educator and I did. Becoming comfortable would have been poison for me, and so I worked diligently to keep moving forward.

After nine years in that school, two popular blogs, a thriving Twitter PLN, National Board Certification, Dow Jones Recognition, a Journalism Fellowship from ASNE at Kent State, five or six books, and a Tedx Talk, it was time to move on. I loved the program I had and the students I taught, as well as my work family, but it was time for me to stretch more. I wanted to be an instructional coach, and that position didn’t exist in my school.

Don’t get me wrong, I did try to appeal to make it exist, but budgets, as they were, didn’t allow.

So onto the next leg of my journey, and so this continues still in my role in leadership now.

As educators, we can’t just talk a good game about a growth mindset, we must live it. As uncomfortable as it truly is, we must recognize where we are in our careers and make smart choices for our lives and our growth for the benefit of all of our students to come and ourselves.

Don’t be afraid to be awesome ... seek it out.

What do you do on a regular basis to ensure your continued growth? Please share

Picture made using Pablo.com

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