Getting Out of Our Comfort Zone

With this pandemic still raging, I’ve been observing from the sidelines as the public weighs in on the safety of opening schools and as educators prepare for the new school year. I empathize with my fellow educators who are navigating uncharted waters that could change at any time. It is during these uncertain times when getting out of our comfort zone becomes so important.

I saw teachers grow professionally last quarter when they were forced to do distance or virtual learning with their students. I was pleased to see teachers sharing about all the new technology tools they were able to try out. Many discovered new ways to engage their students while videoconferencing, and others shared fun resources to make sure that learning would continue during the stay-at-home order. And the professional development was outstanding! Teachers shared resources, held videoconferences to discuss concerns or to problem-solve, and reached out to assist their colleagues who were struggling.

Getting out of our comfort zone can be scary. It’s much easier to not rock the boat and continue to do what we know works. Yet it’s those opportunities to try something new that can be exciting and lead to growth. For those who may be hesitant to reach out to others, social media might be the answer. I am more of an introvert and being from Hawaii . . . well, we sometimes feel self-conscious about whether we’re “good enough.” It probably has something to do with our cultural background and/or our plantation roots. I found though, that when I started following educators on social media, I felt more comfortable about making a comment or asking questions because I was somewhat “anonymous.” Let me share how I got out of my comfort zone and grew as a result of social media.

I was a member of an educator leaders group in Google+ (before they shut down), and I followed Eric Sheninger. When he shared that he was leaving his high school principalship for a position as a consultant working with schools and districts, I congratulated him and wrote a comment “Too bad you can’t come to Hawaii.” What followed was a whirlwind of communication and Eric giving up a morning of his vacation the following week to speak to a large group of school leaders in our district. (Read about it here: Mahalo, Eric Sheninger!) I consider Eric a friend now, and we continue to meet when he comes to Hawaii to work. And it started with a simple comment on social media.

I started reading Peter DeWitt’s “Finding Common Ground” in EdWeek, and after reading a somewhat controversial op-ed, I sent him an email asking if he ever got push-back from his district for what he wrote. As principals here in Hawaii, we were also experiencing major challenges. I wasn’t expecting to get a response – after all, Peter didn’t know who I was – but he answered me right away. After that, we struck up a friendship that’s lasted to this day. In fact, he recently invited me to be a panelist on “A Seat at the Table” for a discussion about equity. I would never have had that opportunity if I hadn’t reached out to Peter via email.

I also followed George Couros on Google+ back when it was still a social media platform, and he invited experienced and new school administrators to sign up for SAVMP (School Administrators Virtual Mentoring Program). I read the description and after much deliberation, I submitted my application. I was not confident, but I figured that the worst that could happen would be getting a rejection. That didn’t happen, and thus began a wonderful year of leading and learning from others. Today, my virtual mentees continue in educational administration, and I continue to follow them on Twitter.

Since my retirement in the summer of 2018, I’ve had many experiences that have taken me out of my comfort zone. (There is Life after Retirement) I continue to grow personally and professionally, for which I am grateful; we should never stop learning! I encourage all educators to try something new or different and to explore new ways of learning from people you may not know personally but who may be experiencing similar challenges. What’s the worst that could happen? They might not respond to you, but know that there are many other educators who could provide you with suggestions or guidance, and hopefully, you will realize that you have much to offer as well.