The Discomfort of Learning

I came across the graphic below in a leadership session at a conference. We were learning about teacher growth and nurturing the growth mindset in staff. The discussion centered on how getting out of one’s comfort zone is necessary for learning.  I have found that awareness and understanding of this graphic is particularly helpful in my own social emotional learning.  Reflecting on my progress through the zones is helping me develop resilience and find meaning in stressful situations.

When I transitioned from Assistant Principal to Principal, I started in the Fear Zone.  As challenges and situations were thrown at me, I had no choice but to go into the learning zone in order to survive.  Now, I probably spend most of my time in the learning zone, but I do find that there are some situations that cause the Fear Zone to creep back in.  As I work to nurture or build relationships with teachers, I find it difficult in not to be affected by others’ opinions.  How do you create trusting relationships built on respect and not be affected by others’ opinions?  Are these two ideas mutually exclusive? 

As I move periodically into the growth zone, I struggle to find a balance between conquering objectives and being affected by others’ opinions.  I take the necessary steps to do what I feel is right even if I know that the action might upset people, but I can’t seem to turn off that nagging voice in my head that tells me that a person I care about (a staff member) is unhappy with a decision I made. For example, last spring I was in the growth zone. I set new goals, made decisions for the upcoming school year that were based on students’ needs, research, and data. I proposed changes that were what I thought to be the right shifts to make. I felt uncomfortable, yet empowered. As I rolled out my ideas, I found that these decisions made a few of my staff members uncomfortable and unhappy.  I take the necessary steps to do what I feel is right even if I know that the action might upset people, but I can’t seem to turn off that nagging voice in my head that tells me that a person I care about (a staff member) is unhappy with a decision I made.

Just knowing about this graphic and understanding that discomfort is necessary to growth helps me deal with the stress.  I know that through my discomfort I am learning, growing, and getting better.  As I reflect, I develop empathy for my staff as I wonder what stage individuals are in right now.  I think about those who have difficulty adapting to change, those who have experienced recent loss, those with large classes, those who have switched grade levels and those who have classes with high needs.  I wonder if they know they are on my heart and that I worry about them.  The best thing I know to do right now is to check in with them and let them know I care.  Perhaps sharing this graphic with my staff members will help them find meaning in their stressful situations.

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