Comfort is Killing Us

The greatest danger to effective instruction and the administration of a school is comfort. Once a teacher, teachers or school leadership becomes comfortable at their job they tend to no longer seek to improve their practices and instead often seek comfort in remaining with the status quo. In my mind, this is the equivalent of the life support monitor of the school flatlining.

It is vital that educators maintain a growth mindset as professionals. We must be reflective and improve our own practices as well as others within the school. Essentially, we must stay hungry, always be growing and push others to do so as well.

There is a difference between being “comfortable” in one’s practice and having a mastery of a particular skill set. When a person exhibits a mastery of a skill they have the confidence and expertise to perform the duties of their job at a high level but they also understand that there are always ways to do the job better, with more efficiency or impact.

When an educator is comfortable with their job, the power of the status quo takes over and educators journey down the path of least resistance. These educators essentially punch the clock and do as little a possible to disrupt their routine. The curriculum is to blame for student success, or the students are not motivated or ill-behaved, or there is a lack of resources to deliver meaningful lessons, or…insert excuse here...

Inevitability, the only thing these comfortable educators look forward to on Monday, is that Friday is four days away.

The desire for some teachers to remain in the status quo is like a poison within a school. These comfortable and unmotivated teachers can quickly create a cultural in which others can be brought into their toxic way of thinking.

“I’ll always choose a teacher with enthusiasm and weak technique over one with brilliant strategies but who is just punching the clock. Why? An enthusiastic teacher can learn technique, but it is almost impossible to light a fire inside the charred heart of a burned-out teacher.” 
― Dave Burgess, Teach Like a Pirate:

Our job as educational leaders demands that we mentor those teachers who are average but have the potential to be rockstar educators. These teachers may be first-year educators or teachers who have spent 20 years in the classroom. We have to identify them early and lift them up within our organizations otherwise they will leave the profession.

In a similar way that we encourage and cultivate potential rockstar teachers, we must doggedly pursue teachers who fall below our expectations and merely go along to get along. By having critical conversations about “the why” someone teaches and getting them to think about their long term goals, we can open up a dialogue with teachers who fall below expectations. These courageous conversations require us to first, listen and second, be candid about our expectations for them in the classroom and school.

These critical and courageous conversations can and must be respectful. First, the stakes are too high and the time is too short to give our students less than they deserve. Secondly, the job of a teacher is too hard and stressful for someone to be effective if their heart is not fully invested in the needs of the students. It’s too harmful to the teacher and for the students.

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