Sitting in the Deep End

"When I sat in the deep end, I didn't even sink!"

My middle child was so excited she could sit in the "deep end" of the river during one of her preschool field trips. Her statement was more profound than she realized. 

The truth is, she would never learn how to swim if she continued to sit in the deep end. The water was still shallow, and she was comfortable. Learning to swim can be difficult, but it almost never happens without stepping out of our comfort zone (the shallow end), taking risks, getting water up our noses, and trying again. 

Teaching and leadership are the same way. The only way we will ever grow and improve is to get out of our comfort zone and sink a little. Sitting in the deep end can be dangerous with contentment and status quo lurking nearby. 

In the book Kids Deserve It, Todd Nesloney and Adam Welcome encourage us by saying "If we're willing to stick out our necks, stumble and fall, and occasionally get hurt, we'll end up giving our students a better education than they ever dreamed of."

They also add that "We can't expect our kids to be growing, learning, and pushing boundaries unless we're doing the same."

They are right. It is my belief that our responsibilities as professionals dictate we make sure that sitting in the deep end does not become the norm. We must stand guard against complacency and the status quo. Our students deserve teachers who continually search for ways to foster engagement, cultivate curiosity, and facilitate deeper thinking about their content and the world around them. Our teachers deserve leaders who foster cultures of reflection while challenging the status quo and (less effective) traditional mindsets and practices. 

Nesloney and Travis Crowder say in Sparks in the Dark that "Teaching is as much about teacher growth as it is about student growth." In fact, "Great teachers crave growth, and they seek challenges that will help them evolve as educators." 

If our schools and classrooms are to truly be cultures of learning, it is up to us as teachers and leaders to be "lead learners" and set the example by sharing our own learning, successes, failures, and passions. Imagine the possibilities when entire classrooms and schools genuinely seek to quit sitting in the deep end and push themselves beyond their comfort zones!

If we are not currently seeing this in our schools and classrooms, we must ask ourselves why. As Mike Schmoker says in Focus (2nd edition), "One of the hardest places to look when things aren't going as well as we hoped is at ourselves and our own attitudes, practices, and skill sets." We should each be challenged to regularly reflect upon our own impact on learning and be willing to step out of our comfort zones. When we do, we could end up giving our students a better education than they ever dreamed of! 

Doug Dunn is superintendent and principal of a small K-8 school in rural, south central Missouri. He can be found on Twitter at DougDunnEdS.