12 May 2011

The Comfort Zone

One compliant I hear, and have made myself, is how hard it is to get students out of their comfort zone. They will work right up to the edge of what they know and then stop. Our challenge then, as instructors is to pull them out of that comfort zone to spur them on to learn new things and to do better.

The problem is that we so often fail to teach by example.

Much teaching looks like this:

We work hard to pull students into our own comfort zone without ever stepping out of it ourselves.

This is in part down to the somewhat balkanized nature of education, where each topic is treated as a thing in isolation assigned to different departments with different instructors and different agendas. It is also in part because we are usually hired to teach what we know, we are expected to focus on our area of expertise.

But that doesn't, or at least shouldn't, prevent us from stepping out of our own comfort zones. The way to get students out of their zones is to meet them halfway, not to pull them toward us.

By doing so, both instructors and students grow and expand their comfort zones to include more skills and talents and knowledge.

To put it another way, education needs to be about a conversation between educators and students, where each course becomes a practice of finding common ground to move beyond our respective comfort zones so that we can learn and grow as a group and as a community. But it is the educators who half to take that first step out of the bubble of the familiar, not the students.

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