Professional Development Opinion

Comfort Is a Killer of Innovation

By Starr Sackstein — January 20, 2019 3 min read
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As a new teacher, nothing came easily. There was so much to master that I was willing to talk to anyone, listen to suggestions,, and basically try anything that I thought could potentially reach my students. There was nothing to lose.

At some point between years three and six, things started to feel comfortable. I was able to reuse lessons I did before with minimal change and I felt more confident in my teaching space.

By year six, I was in my third school (it was only in its second year of existence) and knew I was hired for a reason. Sure there was still a lot to learn and relationships to develop, but I felt good about what my learning space was like.

By year seven, I was comfortable, but that comfort started to be a challenge. Life at home was also crazy, young child and the beginning phases of a contentious divorce. I didn’t have the same kind of time to invest the way I did early on.

As things became more complicated at home, I threw myself into my work. The comfortable feeling was suffocating, and I never felt good enough at what I was doing.

I asked for help but scarcely got it. I looked for feedback but received few helpful responses as my leaders didn’t understand what I was trying to accomplish.

Then I knew if anything was going to change, I would have to take a big leap of faith and hope for the best jumping into largely uncharted waters with no help or collaboration.

There is no way for me to have been able to predict just how well that choice went.

As a leader, it’s different, especially since I’m still so new in this position. Change is hard, especially since many folks on the team are comfortable. Making room for the adjustments never seems like a good time, and there are always legitimate excuses.

However, the kids deserve our best which means we HAVE to try.

Since I didn’t have leaders who pushed me (they largely left me to my own way), I had to take the initiative. For our team, I’d like to create the space for change and risks to happen. Our team is strong. They have been teaching a long time. They love our kids and our community.

As a leader, it is my purpose to inspire risk-taking. It’s why I decided to leave the classroom. Helping others experience the deep joy and success in their own spaces, in their own ways ... it’s what motivates me now so that they can give their best to our kids and provide rich learning experiences that inspire them to find their own passions.

But it isn’t always as easy as it sounds (not that it sounds easy). Perhaps it’s harder than I was thinking it would be. I don’t say this to complain in any way, but working in a district is always different from working with a district you don’t live in.

As an outside consultant, people are eager for my advice and feedback. They invite me in and soak up my suggestions. Of course, in those scenarios, they elect to have me come talk about assessment reform, and it isn’t “forced” upon them necessarily. Much like with students, who don’t have agency in their learning choices, sometimes we need to present them with new learning that doesn’t seem appealing until they try.

So how can we entice teachers or students to keep an open mind, lead with a growth mindset, and push their way out of comfort to really grow?

This is what we are charged with every day, and it is a noble undertaking, sometimes more satisfying and seamless than others.

As a profession, we need to work to innovate, see education as it needs to be now, and stop comparing it with what it was when we were doing it. The stakes are too high.

So let’s change it.

What will you do today to move out of your comfort zone? Please share

*Photo made with Pablo.com

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