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Comfort Zones

June 18, 2011

Over the last couple of months, I have been taking a drawing class in the community education program at our college. Signing up for the class was in part following a suggestion from Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind. In the book, he argues for the importance of right brain thinking as a means of becoming more creative, and he provides several activities for encouraging right brain thinking. Taking a drawing class is one activity. Another part of me wanted to be able to draw something on the whiteboard when teaching that looked like what I said it was supposed to, instead of saying, “just imagine that is an elephant”.

Since I was in grade school, the perception that “I can’t draw” has been reinforced in my mind. So I approached this class with some trepidation. Some people made similar statements at the beginning of class. However, I thought that they don’t know what it means when they say “I can’t draw” until they see my attempts at drawing.

In the class, I have learned to draw some and have learned and relearned some other lessons. The other day, I came a more clear realization of what comfort zones means. I have used the term off and on but without a deep understanding of what it means. Where the comfort zones come in are after the critiques where I feel like “yes, I can do that,” the next thing the teacher does is give a new assignment to work on, and my first reaction is “I can’t do that. I barely got a handle on the last assignment and now we are going to do another impossible thing.” Yet, a week later I come to class with my effort, and I have gotten closer to achieving the type of drawing than I thought I could. In other words, our teacher constantly takes us out of our comfort zone.

I realized that I do the same thing to my students. However, I have lost some sensitivity to the feelings of dread and self-questioning that comes when I introduce something new in class. As the students are working toward learning something as difficult as subject-verb agreement and we finish the lesson, I move on to fragments. They must go through the same cycle of feelings.

Also, I have become more aware of the support systems that grow in a class with the students and teacher. Our class has become supportive of each others efforts in a comfortable way. I look forward to the class in part just to see who will come and being in their company. We come to class having made some progress toward achieving the lessons from the last class and display our work along with others for critique. The critiques from the teacher and the students help me learn how others see my drawings and what I need to do to continue to improve. The feedback is supportive and usually very helpful. This is something I would like to do with my writing class and more with my communication class.

Finally, I have had reinforced the importance of hard work as any progress I have made comes from the fact that I will spend several hours working on a piece with the result that it doesn’t look totally amateurish. Oddly enough, I have come to treasure that time spent on trying to make decent drawings. The next hurdle is thinking of myself as an artist.

From these reflections, I have been thinking of many of the seemingly impossible things I ask my students to do such as having the lowest level reading students read a whole book. Perhaps I should begin my first class with this quote from Alice in Wonderland.

“There is no use trying, said Alice; one can’t believe impossible things.”

“I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

– Lewis Carroll

At the end of semester, I am often amazed at how my students have done so many impossible things.

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