As I’ve watched Ted Lasso, I can’t help but think about the lessons that we educators can learn along the way. Today we’ll consider a line from the very first episode: “Taking on a challenge is a lot like riding a horse, isn’t it? If you’re comfortable while you’re doing it, you’re probably doing it wrong.” (Ted Lasso, Season 1, Episode 1: Pilot)
This seems like an especially timely message, given all of the challenges educators are currently taking on—everything from new curricula to heightened political tensions to (oh yeah…) a global pandemic which has disrupted teaching and learning in ways we never could have imagined.
Challenges Should Feel Uncomfortable
It’s nice to be reminded that challenges should feel uncomfortable. Especially since that’s (perhaps) not what we had in mind when we first grabbed our clipboards, hung our whistles around our necks, and walked into our locker rooms. (I do love a locker room. Smells like potential.) Okay…our classrooms.
When I first started teaching, I had a vision of what things might look like 3-5 years down the road—when I actually knew what I was doing. I’d have all of the units for the year already planned out before the year began. Systems would be settled and stable. I’d know just how to set kids up for success with routines so they could be independent and successful. I’d know where all of the furniture should go and wouldn’t need to keep rearranging the room every 6 months.
I had a vision of myself as feeling settled—comfortable.
Now, 28 years later (How the heck did that happen?), I can honestly say that I’ve never felt completely comfortable as an educator–at least not for very long.
Change Is the Only Constant
During my 15-year run as a classroom teacher, I certainly gained confidence and learned many skills, but there were always new challenges that felt unsettling. I tried new projects and experimented with new units. Our district would adopt a new approach to teaching math or literacy, and I’d be back on the steep end of the learning curve. A new student would arrive with a whole host of special challenges I’d never worked with before. I was asked to take on roles I never could have imagined: PTA co-president, report card revision committee member, social studies curriculum development team member, and new teacher mentor to name just a few.
Next came a 6-year stint as a full-time Responsive Classroom consultant, author, and developer. Again, I deepened my understanding of pedagogy and grew in my capacity to work with teachers and school leaders. And once again—I found myself stretching in ways that felt unsettling. I liked teaching workshops and coaching teachers, but when I was asked to write workshops and then lead program development for the organization, I felt like a newbie all over again.
I have now been an independent education consultant for more than 7 years, and this same pattern has repeated itself. As I work with a school about one topic, new questions and challenges arise. This will lead us in unexpected directions—opening up new growth, and yes, often leading to me feeling unsettled and uncomfortable.
Certainly, like every other educator on the planet, I’ve felt uncomfortable during the past two years. The challenges of trying to support teachers and schools remotely and through other pandemic restrictions have been incredibly tough. Yet, as always, these new challenges have brought new opportunities for growth and learning. I now have a whole suite of online courses I never would have created without the gift of a new challenge to tackle. (And yes, recording myself on my phone, editing videos, and creating online courses was exquisitely uncomfortable.)
I guess that’s why I so appreciate Ted’s wisdom.
Yeah--This is Nuts
Challenges are uncomfortable. They’re supposed to be. Without discomfort—where’s the learning? And without learning—where’s the growth? How can we ever get better as educators without taking on new challenges and working through the necessary anxiety and tension that comes with new territory?
So, let’s try to embrace the discomfort. And remember that Ted and Coach Beard might have been talking about educators forging ahead in the midst of a pandemic.
Ted Lasso: Are we nuts for doing this?
Coach Beard: Yeah—this is nuts.
So, buckle up and enjoy the flight.