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The Comfort Zone: A Teacher's Worst Enemy

We all like comfort. From nice hotels at conferences to memory foam mattresses, the industry of comfort is a well welcomed friend to most people including teachers. While there is nothing wrong with being comfortable in our day to day lives, sinking into the "Comfort Zone" in our teaching can slow our progress and even burn us out.

Here are four reasons why:

1. When we are in the comfort zone we feel like we aren't growing.

When we sink into the comfort zone of teaching this usually implies that we have found a set of routines that have worked generally well for us in the past and have stopped trying new things. A few questions to ask yourself are:

  • When was the last time I introduced a new activity into my music classroom?

  • Am I finding new songs to teach my students or relying solely on songs I've done for years?

  • What new ensemble could I start? or what could I add to my existing ensembles?

  • What new instrumentation can I introduce to my students? Ukulele? Steel Drums? etc.

  • What new resources am I utilizing to better help me teach my students?

  • What new cultural experiences and customs could I introduce my students to?

Some of us are always looking for something new to bring into our classrooms but if you are anything like me then you like to use what you know works and might need a little more of a nudge. Let these questions spark new ideas to get you out of your comfort zone.

2. When we are in the comfort zone we lose the excitement of teaching.

Have you ever experienced a time where teaching seemed to lose it's spark? It can be very frustrating because most of us wouldn't be music teachers if we didn't love teaching music, and when we get stuck in a rut it feels like something is wrong that we can't quite fix. This is a common symptom of the comfort zone.

There are many ways to create excitement for ourselves and our students in the music classroom and one of the best ways it to create a goal that you and your students are mutually striving for. Perhaps you want to have an ensemble audition to sing at Disney or create an elementary drum line that performs in a parade. When we strive after big goals our excitement and passion for teaching is renewed because we have a reason, a "why", for getting up in the morning and giving it our all in the classroom. The bigger the goal, the more excited we become. Find something to strive for with your students and you will find the excitement to drive you to achieve it.

3. When we are in the comfort zone we stop inspiring others.

Your students look to you for inspiration. If you are inspired, they will be inspired. If you are excited about a goal or performance, they will be. Your students and those around you in your school feed off of your emotional energy.

There have been times I've found myself struggling to help a class get a particular sound quality or concept and when the class finally got it I got excited with a burst of emotional energy. They fed off of that and I got more of the same effort and quality.

When a student can feel that you are proud of them and their progress or effort, they become motivated to give you more of it. Of course being stuck in the comfort zone kills that completely. Being present on an emotional level is a vulnerable place for anyone. Showing your students that you care by using enthusiasm and emotional energy can be difficult, but it is a big part of leadership.

The best leaders are charismatic, confident, and actually care about the people they lead. That is what makes them inspirational. There is an energy behind them that comes from the emotion that they bring to their craft. As teachers we must also bring that energy and emotion to our classrooms and take one more step out of our comfort zone.

4. When we are in the comfort zone we stop pushing past our limits.

There is a book called The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle that mentions a state called "deep practice". This is where artists, musicians, and athletes will reach for what they can almost do, practicing right at the edge of their abilities. Deep practice is not comfortable.

When we practice the art of teaching deeply we stretch ourselves to what we can almost do, and then we break past the limit and experience growth. For some this may be teaching outside of one's comfort zone. For example a primarily instrumental teacher teaching his students how to sing, or a percussionist teaching a wind instrument like recorder. In order to come to our students prepared we must branch out to areas of our musicianship that were once limitations and find a way to help our students learn something that was once difficult for us as well. We can turn our limitations into strengths.

Finally, as we continue to grow as teachers it is important to be aware of when we are falling into the trap of the "comfort zone". Below are some actions steps to follow if you feel like you are stuck, or if you are ready to take things to the next level with your teaching.

Action Steps:

1. Write down one area of your teaching you would like to improve and two things, one big, one small, that you can do within one week to take a step toward improving it.

2. Write down two new things (songs, activities, etc.) that you want to try in your classroom, and schedule a date on which you will begin introducing each new thing.

3. Leave a comment below telling what area of your teaching you feel like you've gotten too comfortable in, and what you plan to do about it.

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