I have a magnet in my office that says “Life starts at the end of your comfort zone”. It is situated to be easily noticed by anybody who comes to visit. The other day, I pointed to it as I was trying to convince one of my students that she did the right thing when she accepted the summer internship at Harvard Medical School, where she will be far outside her comforts zone away from her family and friends. She was uneasy. We talked about growth and what it means to remain open to opportunities that you know will propel your career and change your life, even though they make you feel like a fish out of water. We talked about how she has the entire Biology department backing her, how we will support her and be there for her, how her family will do the same, how to find the strength and grounding to go out in the world and to be who she is with confidence in her abilities to navigate through obstacles. To truly grow you have to push boundaries. Most of the time, when I try to share some wisdom with students, I know that they don’t listen or take my advice to heart, but this student wrote down those words from the magnet (she didn’t just take a picture!) and has come back to thank me. Each time she enters the office I see her eyes wandering over to rest on that sign.
Learning new things can take you outside of your comfort zone. Writing this blog is definitely way outside of my comfort zone. Ever since I failed a writing assignment in Swedish class in high school, I have doubted my writing skills. In addition, I’m not one of those people who likes to post things on social media to share with the world. I’m not sure why – I just don’t have a need to put my life out there. So, this blog is an opportunity for me to grow and push boundaries. I’m trying to stick with it just to force myself to write more and share more of who I am with you. But back to learning: Maryellen Weimer, who is a fantastic blogger, shared her thoughts on the subject last Wednesday in a post titled Learning Outside Your Comfort Zone. She writes:
“I wonder if learning outside the comfort zone isn’t especially difficult for faculty. Theoretically, it shouldn’t be. We’ve devoted years to learning, but most of what we know resides in one area. We’re experts at learning more about what we already know and love. And we’re used to having our learning expertise recognized—by students, colleagues, and sometimes even at home. However, plop us down in a discipline unlike our own, task us with learning a skill we don’t have, and suddenly, we look and act exactly like our students. And that’s the very reason this kind of learning has all sorts of positive implications for teaching. It’s good every now and then to be reacquainted with feeling stupid.”
I especially like the last sentence “It’s good every now and then to be reacquainted with feeling stupid.” Our students may move from classroom to classroom feeling stupid as we get to stay in our comfort zones orating “wisdom” all day long. When was the last time you put yourself in that place? On the other hand, maybe our students are too comfortable with our usual, predictable ways of teaching, how we always do the same things in our classrooms (I’m definitely guilty here – why fix what ain’t broke?). The most comfortable students may be so comfortable that they sleep through your classes or spend the entire class in the digital retreat provided by their phones without engaging with any of the class material. Moving towards the edge of that comfort zone could change the classroom experience for both you and the students. Are you ready to try? What would you do in your class to take students outside of their comfort zone? When did your teaching and learning last provide the opportunity to push boundaries and approach the edge of comfort?
Here is the link to Dr. Weimer’s post:http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/learning-outside-comfort-zone/?utm_campaign=Faculty%20Focus&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=48383015&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-_4kibZEs_MsviN2x6-5V5UxUqw5fBOxtcjGFOU3m7KP1XlIl1BYHYSaiSuMaicTnAvKDsNuw9YJkxo3VgCyoRIRLmVBA&_hsmi=48383015