Last week, in the BT SIG Symposium, one of the teachers participating in my talk approached me and kindly asked what suggestion I had to help act in the context he worked. He claimed he wanted and needed to be observed, but his superiors considered that unimportant; he needed time during the week to take a certain course for professional development, but his superiors considered that irrelevant for his work. I encouraged him to organise his schedule as well as he could and fit a course that would provide him with development. Also, we brainstormed possible observation modes that would give him the opportunity of looking at his lesson from various perspectives. He seemed satisfied and I would really like to know how he develops from now on.
This anecdote illustrates some of the issues I have been considering throughout my own professional life and that I believe permeate teachers’ lives: (1) the professional comfort zone, (2) accountability for development and (3) the influence of the context in teacher education.
- The comfort zone allows professionals to perform at a steady level, but it can be stretched little by little to improve quality of work (White, 2008). In education, this is what teachers preach to their learners – that everyone can learn and get better and better at what they are studying – making leaving the comfort zone every now and then a must to educators who want to model progress. It is also necessary to observe that teaching should change or incorporate new attitudes as the society progresses, in an attempt to reach a greater number of the diverse group of learners. Venturing outside our comfort zone may cause some stress and/or anxiety, but the discomfort is key to growing (Brown, 2015).
- Many of us work in schools and institutions that encourage the growth of their teachers and are often exposed and offered opportunities to study, discuss and develop professionally. Many of us work in places that either fear the growth and change of their professionals or simply do not hold themselves accountable for helping the teaching staff develop. Often times, we discuss whose responsibility is it for professional development opportunities. Ideally, we would have both the school (leaders) and the teachers with a growth mindset (Dweck, 2007) to create an environment that promotes and encourages development. However, this is not always true and teachers are posed with a dilemma: do we complain about the place we work in (possibly from a comfort zone) or do we act upon it, take responsibility for our own future and create opportunities for development? Once again, it may not be the ideal world, but the best way we can affect the context is by changing ourselves.
- Teachers who are lucky enough to be surrounded by professionals who are constantly improving and learning seem more inclined to be inspired and keep developing. In education, we should understand the reasons (Sinek, 2011) behind learning, growing, changing better than in any other context to better perform as classroom leaders and inspire our own learners. Also, with our attitude towards creating a positive context or contributing to one that is already productive, we may be encouraging our colleagues to take action and improve. As Zenger and Folkman (2016) observed, behaviour in the workplace is contagious. In education, we can all be leaders and agents of change if we want to create an environment that embraces professional growth.
All in all, after acquiring some repertoire and confidence to perform our jobs as educators, we may enjoy the comfort zone for a while. However, we need to be careful not to become ‘victims’ of the fixed context that promotes change through their words, but feels too comfortable to develop even further. Perhaps if we do not settle for what ‘has always been true’ in education and work towards new ideas and a revamped context/ classroom, the teachers of the future will encounter a higher bar to raise in their own time.
Brown, B. (2015). Rising Strong: how the ability to reset transforms the way we live, love, parent and lead. New York: Random House.
Dweck, C. (2007). Mindset: the new psychology of success. New York: Ballantine Books.
Sinek, S. (2011). Start with why. New York: Portfolio/ Penguin.
White, A. (2008). From comfort zone to performance management. Baisy-Thy: White & MacLean.
Zenger, J. and Folkman, J. (2016). ‘The trickle-down effect of good (and bad) leadership’. Harvard Business Review, 14th January 2016. Available online at: https://hbr.org/2016/01/the-trickle-down-effect-of-good-and-bad-leadership (Retrieved on 07th July 2017).