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The Importance of Challenging Our Comfort Zone

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The changes we are in the midst of making loom as either the shift toward the future or our very own Titanic. Preparing for the years ahead, we are challenged to step away from our comfort zone, that in which we are both comfortable and fixed. In that zone, we each have our support teams made up of those who serve as our encouragers and devotees. But when the bump in the road occurs, something we didn't see coming arrives, and our blind spots cost us time, progress, relationship capital and even money. We recently wrote about blind spots and their hold on our capacity to lead into the future. Knowing our blind spots is a first step, which needs to be followed by an action that includes more than the people with whom we are most comfortable. It seems counter-intuitive. When we are the most vulnerable, it is natural to want to surround ourselves with comfort and support. But we need to step away from that common sense survival mechanism in our present leadership roles. Although a common practice among successful leaders in general, it has come to rest upon our doorsteps in this time of extraordinary change. Our minds and hearts are constantly challenged and we cannot do this work unaided.

So it was with interest that we read Achim Nowak's blog post on the website SwitchandShift.com. His post, entitled "Outsiders' Perspectives Should Be Encouraged Inside the Corporation" offers insight into the value of listening to other points of view in the business world. Although we do not subscribe to the language of "insider" and "outsider" perhaps we should consider whether that is the paradigm in which we often operate. Those who agree with us are the "insiders" and those who do not are the "outsiders." If not the way we feel, it most certainly can be the way they feel. In no way do classrooms, schools, districts, or organizations benefit from a singular point of view with people who make up the "in group" or the "out group." This seems no different from our work with our students!

We no longer allow marginalized students who do not fit into our traditional paradigms to remain as "outsiders." We are learning more about how to educate students from poverty, and students who do not find their place in our academic programs. We encourage involvement in music and art programs, clubs and sports programs and work to motivate and engage all of our students. We are learning more about how issues of race and sexual orientation create an "us" and "them" environment and how to break down those walls and create an accepting environment in which all students feel accepted and belong. We are advancing our understanding of the need for that accepting environment in order for good learning to take place in our classrooms. Listening to all sides, positions, perceptions, and beliefs, moves us forward.

Nowak calls it "a plea for unsilencing." No matter the word or phrase, listening to the perspective of others is an essential route to finding our own hidden assumptions, and will result in stronger decisions. When decisions are made in this way, this process has the potential to broaden our base. A broader base can make the difference between climbing the stairs and having occasional access to an escalator as we usher change into our schools and districts.

When bringing about change don't we tend to bring a team together of like minds and expect that support will grow from there? But how often do we include our most ardent adversaries, doubters, and skeptics? They have a place at the table from the beginning, in our earliest planning. Welcomed into the process, they can expose our blind spots and, as Nowak describes, question our hidden assumptions, challenge sacred cows, strengthen empathy, and foster better, more fully considered, more human decisions. Now is the time for us to challenge our comfort zone and allow all voices to be heard. By doing this, our systems become stronger, our changes more sustainable, our morale encouraged, and our work rejuvenated.

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