The details of my childhood are fuzzy. I can’t recall with clarity the colors of the bike I rode around the block, or the face of my first grade teacher. There are, however, a few memories that remain crystal clear. One is from when I was about seven or eight years old…
It was late at night, what seemed like hours after my mother had kissed me goodnight- but who knows for sure. I woke up to darkness and a painful heartbeat in my leg. Clutching my shin, I called out. Part of me cried from the pain. The other part cried out of fear that there was something truly wrong with me. After a few nights with scenes much like this one, my mom took me to my doctor.
I think about those pains often. Not because they were unbearable or because they were a significant part of my childhood. I think about them because whether it is physical growth or professional growth, as my doctor said, “Growing ain’t easy.”
As teachers, we are in the business of learning. However taking on a professional goal or trying on a new practice can feel clumsy and uncomfortable sometimes. We’ll probably mess up… a lot. So I thought I might share a few things that I do to embrace the discomfort of learning:
Forgive yourself. Remember that mistakes are just steps toward understanding and innovation. We would never expect our students to master a new skill the first time around. That is just not the way that learning works. But that can be easy to forget when it comes to the standards and expectations we hold for ourselves. We are students, too. We deserve the same amount of patience and care that we would give to our students as we continue on our own learning journeys.
Take the time to reflect after something didn’t go the way you had hoped. It’s easy feel embarrassed or ashamed when your teaching didn’t go well. The voice of that little devil on your should may sneak up telling you that you’re not good enough and you should stick to what you know. Push yourself to put some tape over the his mouth and use the time to think about what parts of the work went well and what you learned from the experience. It is the moments of reflection that help us grow our practice.
Creating a true learning environment means that we must model BEING learners. When we show our students that we are learners too, we have the opportunity to show them that the process isn’t easy and that there are bits of uncertainty and messiness along the way. Plus, when we model being learners in front of our students, they walk away from our classrooms understanding that learning isn’t something that disappears the moment a degree is handed over. It shows them that learning is one of the joys of life, and we don’t ever have to stop.
I’ve heard my friend Patty McGee say, “Be comfortable in the discomfort of trying something new. That is where your most creative and innovative self lives.” We owe it to our students and to ourselves to continue honing our craft. In the end, isn’t it worth it so that our students have the best possible version of us?
So as we embark upon a new year, as odd as it sounds, I wish you all a bit messiness and discomfort. In that wish, I hope you all embrace the experience and find beautiful ways to outgrow yourselves.