Expanding Horizons: Pushing Ourselves out of our Comfort Zone

The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) was what it was referred to when I was studying education back in the late 1990’s.  The plan was to push the learning bar for our students just to a point were they could reach it with effort while challenging themselves in new ways thus creating a bolder learner more ready to be a risk taker and stakeholder in their own learning. I wonder at times, when I think of my practice of education, if I am  still putting my money where my mouth is with respect to my own learning.

It is very easy, as a teacher, to get caught in the cycle of marking, teaching, evaluating, ad infinitum; and as a result become complacent in our own learning. I had an experience the other day that served to remind me of the importance of keeping my ZPD in mind while engaged in the day-to-day travails of the classroom teacher. Any way, back to the experience I refered to – it was while meeting with our school’s Instructional Leadership Team, the principal of our school and Shirley Stiles, an awesome outside consultant who was brought in to take us through the process doing learning visits within our school. I must admit that even though I knew that this training was coming and that the first round was going to be for practice only; in order to make us familiar with the process so that we could engage in these visits in the future as well as in service the rest of the school staff in this regard – so that down the road all would be able to engage in this PD activity thereby leading, hopefully, to an increase in collaboration as we become more comfortable with the process.

This process on the surface seems simple enough, there is no great content curve to muster, no test or evaluation of us as learners of the process at the end of the session. Why was it then that I found myself feeling slightly uncomfortable with the process. What was it that was pushing me out of my comfort zone so badly. I have had administrators, pedagogical supervisors, mentoring staff from the division and others into my classroom on short or little notice and enjoyed their visits and feedback immensely. It was not until we were planning on what classrooms we were visiting for the purpose of the practice session that I realized that I was really uncomfortable with the planned process. Luckily I work with a great team and in the course of a couple of minutes it was clear to me that what was pushing my comfort zone was the idea of going into colleagues classrooms. While I would welcome all to my classroom I feared that my visit to theirs might be viewed with suspicion and/or disapproval or even worse – as some sort of evaluation.

Once we had identified the elephant in the room for me – Shirley explained that what I was feeling was natural and that it was something that would sort itself out quickly once we began the process. That said she also indicated that I would be in her group as we engaged in this practice session; like any good teacher Shirley identified a learner that needed support and provided it in a non-threatening low-key way that allowed me to feel at ease and to engage completely in the process. The visits to the classroom were excellent as we got to watch a variety of our staff and note the excellent work that was going on throughout the school – our visit and the key messages that we issued afterward to the staff served as a celebration of the great things going on in our school.

While moving outside of one’s ZPD can be unnerving and uncomfortable it does provide one with several things. First it creates a sense of accomplishment like we used to get when we were the students and completed an oral presentation or passed a test that we were apprehensive about. Like our learners I got to reflect on the process and realize that it was not that scary and that the next time that I engage in this process it will be with increased confidence. It is with these thoughts in mind that I will engage the spell checker and then post this and return to the stack of pre-Christmas break marking that I have. How do you push your ZPD? I would be interested in hearing from you.

Published in: on December 19, 2011 at 12:39 am  Leave a Comment  
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