Opportunities Abound Outside Your Comfort Zone

Have you ever looked around at teachers you admire and wondered “How do they do that? How do they have so much energy? It’s like cool opportunities just fall in their lap!”

I used to think like that. Then I discovered something… opportunities don’t fall in people’s laps. People work for them. And that energy? It magically creates more energy.

My teaching career has had quite a few ups and downs. After four years as a substitute teacher I finally got a full time teaching position. I was ecstatic. I soon moved to a new, specialized off site program for hard to reach students. I have to admit, I felt lost a lot of the time, but I really liked the kids and missed them when I went off on maternity leave with my third child.

When I returned to work, I finally started to feel like I was improving as a teacher and getting on top of things. I had supportive colleagues and a principal who really encouraged me to stretch myself. She got me involved in a cross panel committee and then as Student Success Lead. Things were exciting, and all the learning I was participating in really energized me and my practice.

Then life took an abrupt left turn. My son, 5 at the time, was diagnosed with cancer. Our family got through that ordeal relatively unscathed, thankfully, but a little more than 2 years later my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer…then my dad died followed swiftly by my mom. In total it was four years of reeling on an emotional roller coaster that left little mental space for me to up my teaching game.

Slowly the cloud lifted and I started to get back on track. Part of me felt like I was starting over again, like an unsure, new teacher back at square one, but I plugged along. I came to a point when I felt pretty disheartened. I criticized and second-guessed myself all the time. I was frustrated. My confidence level was low and I felt unfulfilled. Really it was pretty self-sabotaging stuff.

Fortunately for me around that time my board was incorporating tech in a big way – tablets for all teachers and each classroom. The use of tech in the classroom has always intrigued me and I jumped into learning all I could and speedily became very efficient. So much so that I was asked to join a new team in my board – the Digital Lead Learner team.

The Digital Lead Learner team was a turning point for me, and for the most part – not about tech! Being on the team opened possibilities for learning I didn’t even know existed. It encouraged me to see things from a different perspective – a bigger perspective. It helped me find my “why” again and so much more.

I have stepped outside my comfort zone more in the past three years than I have in the last twenty. I have lead workshops for my colleagues; co-hosted a Twitter chat; joined global collaboration projects (Climate Action Project and Innovation Project) with my students, changed and updated my teaching practice by embedding tech like D2L, OneNote, Class Notebook, and Flipgrid to name a few; and tried new things in class that made me very nervous – Skype, student-led learning, and blogging. I’m looking forward to presenting at the upcoming ConnectED Conference and I’m going to teach refugees via Skype through Project Kakuma. Talk about exciting and scary rolled into one! But that’s what’s great! That’s where learning happens. I remember totally feeling like Carolyn Cormier – frozen hovering over the button. But I know the best learning takes place in that scary spot outside our comfort zone and now I know HOW to work through scary and WHY it’s so important to do it.

I’ve also learned that, as John Spencer and A.J. Juliani point out in their book Empower, “the world deserves your creativity.” I had never looked at things this way, now I do – for myself and my students.

Opportunities don’t fall in your lap, but they are out there waiting for you to jump out of your comfort zone and fall right into their lap.

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