What is not to love about a zone of comfort; it is a comfy cocoon. It is a pleasurable place that is safe, sound, and satisfying. It is a place where alliterative adjectives may abound with abandon. Comfort zones are safe havens where residents of those zones need not do anything that would in any way slow the flow of comfort. Comfort zones exist in our personal lives as well as our professional lives.
My personal favorite comfort zone is created on Friday nights. I have a Pizza delivered; open a bottle of wine; turn the computer off, and the TV on, and all is right with the world. It is difficult for me to accept any alternate plan for my Friday evening. If my wife commits us to anything else, I put on “the Grumpy Face” and very reluctantly go along with whatever uncomfortable thing I am forced to do, and almost anything else will be uncomfortable. Comfort zones seem to create patterns of habit that way.
There is little that people will not do to create, or maintain their comfort zones. Basketball fans are a great example of this. During “March Madness” the number of vasectomies performed takes a huge statistical jump. That operation in particular allows men to recover uninterrupted for several days with a real need to remain on the couch in front of the television set, or in a more relevant term in front of the big screen. All of this occurs with the willing support of the wife who may even be the willing server of beverages and snacks. This of course only happens once, but for some it is the ultimate comfort zone.
Pizza, wine, and vasectomies have little to do with today’s education, but comfort zones are a major factor in retarding reform in education. Change in any form is the one thing that destroys zones of comfort. Reform of any kind in education will require changing what we are doing now, to something else. That is change and for too many educators that is uncomfortable.
Direct instruction and lecture are probably the two most basic forms of instruction familiar to educators. It is how many, if not most, educators were instructed in their education. It is familiar. It is comfortable. Those methods are necessary and in some form, they will always be a part of education. The change however, is that those methods will probably no longer be the focus for education. There are other methods that are moving in. Problem based learning, collaborative learning, and social learning are all terms that have crept into the everyday discussion of education. To many educators these are not new terms, but their position in education is being elevated. These methods are moving up the ladder of acceptance. They must now be recognized as a force to be reckoned with in education. It will require both work and even more discomforting; CHANGE.
To compound the problem that some have with these emerging methods of instruction, there are new tools for learning that must be introduced. These tools are all in the form of new technology that enables or enhances the shift in education. This requires educators to travel away from the lectern, the chalkboard, the overhead and the rows, and the front of the classroom. That is difficult for these are the very things that formulate the comfort zones that many refuse to leave.
The biggest threat however is the self-image many educators have. They have been programmed by decades of previous teachers to hold fast to the belief that they are the keepers of content. They are experts in their areas. They are the masters of their domain (Seinfeld episode not withstanding). The internet and its easy access have changed that forever. Technology has changed the self-image that many educators have had. There are even some educators who buy into the myth that someday teachers will be replaced by technology. For some this goes beyond discomfort to actually threatening one’s self-worth and livelihood.
For many educators the use of new methodologies and the technology to utilize these methods are very foreign. Employing them will require change. This change requires more education, more training, different attitudes, and a different self-perception. Educators will need to advance from not just content experts, but to facilitators, or moderators, or guides. These are different roles for educators. It is not the understanding of the role that many had when they entered the profession. All of this is very uncomfortable. Too many will have to leave their zones. This is not limited to teachers. Administrators, parents, and even students have their comfort zones in today’s education system. We all are invested in our comfort zones, even when we are pointing to others demanding that they leave their zones.
Change in the education system must happen, if we expect different outcomes for our children. How do we do that with so many uncomfortable alternatives? We need to educate the educators. Comfort zones are obstacles to reform. We need to make professional development an integral part of the educator’s profession. Pedagogy and technology tools for learning need to have a balance in discussions. These are the reform discussions educators should be having for real reform. We cannot be sidetracked with the labor, tax, and accountability issues pushed forward by politicians who would refuse to judge themselves by the same standards they want to force on educators.
I love my pizza and wine on a Friday evening, as I sit in front of the TV. If tomorrow however, the doctor told me that my self-described, comfort zone has become a detriment to my health, and that I must change things or possibly die before my time, then my comfort zone is no longer comfortable. It is time to get comfortable with some other set of things. That is the state of education today. It is a change-or-die situation. We are running out of time for people to ease out of their comfort zones. We need to prioritize professional development. We need to make everyone comfortable with learning. That should be the only comfort zone for students and educators.