Discomfort, Inadequacy and Growth

During Twitter Math Camp there was a lot of discussion of feeling inadequate because there are so many energetic folks intensely sharing a variety of awesome teaching ideas, strategies & methods.  There were moving blog posts by Mo, Lisa Henry, and numerous tweets disusing feeling scared, or inadequate.

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After all of these feelings became an underlying theme, Lisa convinced me to run a session on both how we can implement change in ourselves and in our schools. I shared this graphic because it is a tool that I frequently refer to as I try to improve my own teaching. Since this session there have been some great reflections written by Sam & Lisa on using it for their own growth & reflection.

A theme I see in the advice around growing as a teacher is that you should choose one thing at a time, and grow a manageable amount, which sounds like great advice, but in reality this does not work for me. I am in Fawn‘s camp regarding growth:

Sam said he grows the most as a professional when he jumps in and attempts a major shift here:

“… But you know what? Without jumping in, I never would have gotten the skills needed.

Let me tell you: those were high anxiety times. They required a lot of emotional energy and a ton of time. But they were also times of immense growth for me.”

In my last blog post I discussed the pace of professional development. This entire discussion is applicable to teachers as well as students:

  1. Mindset is critical: We can see the value in & advocate for developing a growth mindset, but until we truly do this for ourselves, we aren’t going to be as receptive to growth.
  2. We all have some strategies with which we are comfortable and resort to in times of stress. We have other skills that we are willing to try occasionally because we have seen them in action or have been convinced of their value and understand how to do it. Then there are the strategies that we just cannot fathom in action – we wouldn’t even know where to start. We panic & want to quit.

Now re-read these two items in terms of student learning. It’s the same for everybody.

This is where I try to keep my students in order to grow their comfort zone. This is also where we should try to keep ourselves in our growth as teachers:


The tricky part is that we (students & teachers) are all starting with different sized zones in different places. Some students reach panic if you look at them. Mindset grows the zones in order to get more out of every experience, but it does not eliminate the existence of panic. These also change based on who you are working with and the stress in the situation.

As learners, when we feel like its too much, we should breathe & take a step back and look at these feelings from the perspective of a teacher. What would be manageable? What pushed you to panic? What is missing(see the first chart)? How can you address this for yourself?

Understanding the mechanics behind your panic and acknowledging it as a teacher for whom you also happen to be the student can help you to learn persistence, develop your growth mindset and acquire skills to implement the same strategies with your students.



5 thoughts on “Discomfort, Inadequacy and Growth

  1. Love this reflection and synthesis. I too think in terms of the comfort zone-growth zone-panic zone model. This year I want to be more intentional about using it with students as a metacognitive strategy. Do you have any suggestions about using this with students?

    – Elizabeth (@cheesemonkeysf)

    • I hadn’t thought about that. What a great idea. Ill have to do some digging and thinking & I will share what I find.

  2. That line between the learning zone and the panic zone is so freaking SKINNY! I guess that’s why it often feels like panic 🙂 I think in visuals and both the point of maximum learning and the model for managing complex change really portray how hard this work can be! Thanks for pointing me toward your post.

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