Last week I went to a Gymnastics class for the first time in a long time. A really long time. The last time I walked on a beam, twirled around the uneven bars, or did a somersault or cartwheel was when I was in primary school. And I found myself back at Gymnastics, super excited and a little nervous, all at the same time. I’m a big fan of learning something new every day and here was my opportunity to do just that: to get outside my comfort zone and try something new.

As I waited for the class to start (see my pic above) I felt excited to reconnect with something I used to love doing but I also felt slightly uncomfortable. Yes, I was aware that I was definitely outside my comfort zone.

As I reflect on what was an amazing gymnastics class, I have realized just how important it is for us to do things outside our comfort zone, to try something new, to be a learner and be curious about the world around us.

Here’s what I learned from a trip outside my comfort zone:

1. Being a learner improves your teaching.

As a teacher, we can easily forget what it feels like to be a learner and to be outside of our comfort zone. Our students experience this feeling all the time. It is a helpful reminder for us to know what it feels like to be the learner, the curious one, the one who is yet to learn.

Application: Intentionally do something that makes you feel slightly uncomfortable.

2. It’s the teacher’s responsibility to build rapport.

Before the class began, my coach came and introduced himself to me. He was friendly and authentic and really helped me to feel relaxed and also expectant of a great class. He quickly developed rapport and the he actually ‘started’ the learning (and the expectations of the learning) before the class even ‘officially’ started’.

Application: Build rapport with your students before the class even starts.

3. Building student-to-student relationships catapults learning.

The coach also introduced me to the others in the class and helped us connect and get to know each other. This made the learning even more exciting and enjoyable. There was a sense of ‘we’ in the class, even though we were working individually. Students who are well connected through meaningful relationships will learn more quickly and more effectively.

Application: Help your students to build relationships with each other.

4. Excellent teachers stretch their students, a little bit at a time.

Several times throughout the class I was aware that my coach was ‘stretching’ my learning and helping to take it further. He helped me go further and stronger than I would have by myself. He kept building on my learning and taking it a little bit further each time. For example, I started the class doing a little forward roll on the ground, and by the end of the class I was jumping on a trampoline, going 2 metres into the air, and doing a forward roll off the other side of a double-height mat. How did that happen?? It was because the coach stretched my learning, a little bit at a time, over the course of the lesson.

Application: Know where your students are at, and take them that little bit further, on a regular basis.

5. Encouragement AND feedback go together.

Throughout the whole lesson, this whole experience of being outside my comfort zone, I was acutely aware of my coach’s encouragement. He told me how well I was going and he was specific in what I was doing correctly. But it didn’t stop there. He also gave me constructive feedback on how to improve what I was doing and make it even better. It was his encouragement AND feedback that helped me to learn even more effectively.

Application: Be specific in your encouragement AND constructive in your feedback.

This week’s assignment:

Firstly, intentionally put yourself in a place where you are outside your comfort zone and notice how much you learn about you and your teaching.
Secondly, pick one of the application points above and try it out.

Enjoy the journey,

And more importantly,

Enjoy the moments.