I had the pleasure of seeing Pat Torrey speak, at the NOW (National Ourteach von Willebrand) Conference. What he had to say to us directly relates to my job as an instructional coach. He talked about perceived risk vs actual risk. We had to do an exercise using mouse traps. Some people perceive mouse traps to be painful and dangerous. After all they were designed to kill mice, BUT if handled properly they pose no threat. Pat showed us how to set the trap properly.
I have to admit I have never set a mouse trap before, and there is a certain finesse to it. I was slow and steady, but I had too much tension on the hold down bar when I tried to set it, so I could not get the hammer to sit just right. It was the fear of it snapping on my fingers. I was actually sweating, and we had not even begun the actual exercise. My 17 y/o son was sitting next to me. He was very patient with me. I finally set the trap and laid it on the palm of my left hand. Our task was to put our other hand flat on top of the entire trap (much the way you keep your palm flat when you feed a horse). Then we were instructed to lift our hand straight up to release the trap without getting pinched. I consider myself a risk taker and I had my 17 y/o son watching me, so I quickly put my right palm flat on top of the trap. That was the easy part. Then I froze. I was afraid to lift my hand off the trap. This was definitely outside my comfort zone. I was afraid that the trap would close on my hand. OUCH! I quickly realized that I could not sit like this all day and would have to lift my hand up regardless of the consequences. It would only hurt for a short time, right? I took a deep breath and lifted my hand straight up as fast as I could. The trap popped off my hand and onto the table. I was unscathed! I let out a huge sigh of relief.
I see that some teachers perceive the risk of trying new ideas, apps and procedures with their devices as greater than the benefits that they will gain. They do only what they need to do to get by. Our perception of a situation rules how we proceed. Fear of what is around the corner, the unknown holds us back. We can't let that happen on a regular basis. Our comfort zone is where we operate from the majority of the time, but real growth can not take place unless we leave this zone. We must move into the growth zone every once in a while, in order for real change to occur in our teaching and in our lives. This move increases our stress level. I have to remember that when I work with teachers. This means I have to push a little bit. It also means that I have to make sure that I support the teachers enough to cut down on the amount of perceived risk. This can involve one or more of the following: supportive conversations, goal setting, pros and cons lists, screencasts, modeling and team teaching.
I had a few different emotions from the time I put my hand down on the trap till the time the trap flopped on the table. I embraced those feelings. I am a person who can safely work a mouse trap! I need to remind the teachers I work with to embrace those feelings that they have when they are in the growth zone. They should reflect on the experience as a whole, note how they felt and what it took to grow and change.
Before this exercise I used to think that people were either risk takers or not, but now I understand that is all about how you perceive risk. The risk taking is definitely situational.
Where have you held back because of fear? Are you willing to leave your comfort zone?