Because For Educators and Parents, Counting Our Blessings Just Isn't Enough

“How many of you are feeling uncomfortable right now?” Heidi Hayes Jacobs asked at her EdJEWcon conference keynote yesterday. I confess. I didn’t raise my hand. When Heidi Hayes Jacobs emphatically shared that we should feel uncomfortable, I wondered, feeling a bit like the child in class who has just gotten the “wrong” answer. Now please don’t misunderstand, I was riveted by Heidi Hayes Jacobs’ presentation. My mind raced with her notion of “strategic upgrade”; not adding to our already overfull plates but shifting learning experiences strategically to more effectively meet the needs of our students today who are processing information differently, in more social, non-linear ways. I was feeling engaged, open, reflective, and interested. I was considering possibilities , reflecting on how better we might serve our students. I was learning and I was loving the opportunity.

And, yet, suddenly, with Heidi Haye’s Jacobs’ challenge to embrace discomfort, I became uncomfortable. I know, the demands are great. I know, our schools are not yet where we want them to be. I know, with all we have accomplished in our schools, it isn’t yet enough. I know, we have tremendous challenges ahead.

For a moment, I felt a heaviness, allowing the grip of fear of failure when the stakes are our children’s futures to overtake me. Yet, only for a moment. For me, embracing discomfort means becoming comfortable with discomfort. When we strive together to address difficult realities the engagement need not be stressful. We are allowed to have fun.

With tremendous respect for Heidi Hayes Jacob, I permitted myself again to relish in her words, to imagine the possibilities they hold for our school, and to find energy, rather than discomfort, in the challenges she poses. I formulated my own essential question, which stood in the background of my learning for the rest of the day: How can we become comfortable with discomfort through the experience of rapid change in our schools?

The two following sessions offered me context – Leading In a culture of Change with Valeri Mitrani, Julie Lambert and Jon Mitzmacher and Upgrade Curriculum and Assessment with Student Blogfolios with Andrea Hernandez. Each of these extraordinary educators supported me to reflect on my essential question.

Valeri Mitrani and Julie Lambert focused on the factors necessary in managing complex change in a system.
No shared vision leads to confusion.
Missing skills leads to anxiety.
Missing incentives leads to resistance.
Missing resources leads to frustration
Missing an action plan leads to a treadmill (working hard with no results).
Missing results leads to inertia.
Confusion, anxiety, resistance, frustration, hard work with no results, and inertia. Now, there is a recipe for discomfort. And, it’s real. We’ve experienced such discomfort. We know it, relate to it, recognize it, and fear it.

It is also a recipe for possibility. Share a vision. Build capacity and skills. Find incentives in focusing on the values based mission of providing together for our learners. Creatively assess and develop resources even in financially trying times. Plan and develop an action plan collaboratively. Celebrate even the small successes.

Jon Mitzmacher then authentically shared in concrete terms ways he is managing complex change at the Martin J. Gottlieb Jewish Day School, speaking of structural choices his school has made.
They got rid of the computer lab and instead pushed technology instruction into the classroom.
They created a school ning as a virtual space for faculty members to collaborate.
They redefined a number of existing positions with a 21st century and instructional coaching thrust.
They transformed faculty meetings with a focus on professional learning.
Jon Mitzmacher, as Head of School, set clear expectations, defining minimum requirements and raising the bar every year.

As Jon spoke, I connected. We as a school are in the process of making similar choices. I felt energized because I recognized the shared vision, skills, incentives, resources, action plan, and celebrations of successes along the way. And, I appreciate Jon’s open acknowledgement of the discomfort that occurred in the process. He recognizes the discomfort without wallowing in it, astutely open for course corrections in an ongoing process of learning.

Andrea Hernandez spoke in the following session with contagious energy about one strategic upgrade at the Martin J Gottleib Jewish Day School: student blogfolios. A term Andrea has created, a blogfolio is a blog + a portfolio. Beginning last year in kindergarten, third and fifth grade; and this year extending to the entire school third through eighth grade, blogfoloios are offering students at the Martin J Gottlieb Jewish Day School a voice with an authentic audience. Started as digital portfolios on a wordpress blog to use primarily for assessment of learning, students were so excited to receive their own blog that they wanted to write. The magic began! Students became bloggers, in Andrea’s words, “learning to create and creating to learn.”

Andrea was honest, open and reflective about the challenges and discomfort; parent concern about safety and privacy, student interest and engagement growing and waning, and skill building with teachers. She was also clear, blogfolios are a tremendous amount of work. And, yet, Andrea did not seem uncomfortable. The reverse, her energy, excitement and passion were palpable as she shared one example of a strategic upgrade – replacing assessment and writing projects previously on paper and handed in to a teacher with blogfolios that can be shared with an authentic audience. Imagine the possibility!

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Comments on: "Comfort With Discomfort" (8)

  1. Carole said:

    I can’t wait to begin. It sounds exciting and transforming for our students.

    • Shira Leibowitz said:

      Thanks, Carole! Our school is truly blessed to call you one of our instructional leaders!

  2. I could not agree more on the importance of discomfort in the classroom. I have long believed that students engage on a personal level due to dissonance, and creating that dissonance is a primary characteristic of great teachers. I blogged about this just last week: http://wp.me/p2gT3m-2V and it is a core element of my book. Perhaps comments there will be helpful.

    • Shira Leibowitz said:

      Thanks so much for sharing your very thoughtful blog. Dissonance is such an important notion; and creating the comfort with discomfort to stretch and grow requires courage. You have ignited my desire to read The Art of War; a book my Tae Kwon Do master, and one of my most influential teachers not only on martial arts – but on life, has long recommended. I look forward to sharing many dissonant conversations and learning together!

      • Thanks, Shira. After studying The Art of War for years, and stewing over what was wrong with education, I saw such strong parallels that I really had to write my book. I still am sort of amazed that others have not interpreted Sun Tzu the same way I do; I would love to hear your comments at some point if you are able to consider both the original and my interpretation in The Falconer. It has resonated with my students from 4th grade to college-age!

      • Shira Leibowitz said:

        Looking forward to reading your book and to reflecting and learning more with you! Thanks for helping me stretch my thinking!

  3. Delores Butler said:

    Thank you for sharing with us. I agree it is time that we begin to tranform and meet our students where they are. Some of us have allowed complacency to set in because we fear change. Feeling uncomfortable can and should make us want to do right by the children we service in our schools. in order to transform, we must buy into the school’s shared vision, build upon our skills and effectively utilized our resources to create action plans.

    • Shira Leibowitz said:

      Thanks for the thoughtful feedback! Your action steps help lead us from discomfort to accomplishment through shared vision, skill building, effective resource allocation, and action plans. It is often through the planning that we can gain a sense of optimism and comfort in the midst of discomfort.

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