Recently, I shared my first marathon experience and my frustration in not maintaining my fitness afterwards. To be honest, the fact that I managed to maintain my fitness prior to running 42 kilometres without breaking down was no small surprise to me.
Before committing myself to a marathon, I had been running on and off a few times a week for no longer than 40 minutes. I had been running on and off because I kept breaking down. If I ran for an extended period of time my hip and butt would eventually lock up to the point that walking would be very painful. A swimming coach at school was a physical therapist and told me it could be that the pain shooting up my back and down my leg was due to muscles contracting around a nerve. He suggested that I come to his clinic to sort it out. I didn’t.
Instead, not disheartened by the fact that I had unsuccessfully spent the best part of a year trying to solve the problem myself, I decided to solve my problem myself.
Previous theories of mine that remained unfounded revolved around my shoes, flexibility, hills, stress and posture. I changed my shoes, made a point of stretching, avoided hills and I was not stressed. My posture was terrible and my wife bought me a device that basically zapped me if I slouched. I would question that this gift was given in support of my running but it did seem that my improved posture was making a difference. Until I broke down again.
Training for a marathon involves a fair bit of running so I was not confident that I wouldn’t lock up again. Julia, my training partner laid out a plan that involved more than a fair bit of running. And one weights session per week. I hated weight sessions. Actually, given the fact that I had never lifted, pushed or pulled any weight in any gym, it would be more accurate to say that I hated the thought of weight sessions. But I dutifully followed the plan with the encouragement and advice of Julia. The pain that I had thought to be inevitable never came. My problem was muscle strength and the solution to my problem was the weight sessions.
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. The smoke was the pain. That was easy to identify. But to deal with the pain, I had to find the fire and put that out. Why did that take so long?
I could argue that I found the cause of my injury by chance after diligently eliminating other potential causes through trial and error. However, I should admit to the fact that it took me so long to effectively deal with my injury because changing my shoes, stretching, and avoiding hills were solutions that did not require me to do something that I loathed and was probably not particularly good at.
The realization that I was busying myself doing things that had no impact on the problem that I was trying to solve certainly gave me food for thought as an educator. As all educators do, I have preferences and specialities in content and practice. But what if my preferences and specialities did not address my students’ learner-centred problems? Was I willing to step out of my comfort zone for my students. In the case of my recurring injury, I was not even willing to step out of my comfort zone for myself!
That begs the question, why was I not willing to try something new to solve my problem? What I understood about my body and my injury was enough for me to know that weak muscles could be my problem and weight training could well be the answer. The truth is that I did not try it because I was unsure how to go about it, did not think I would be any good at it and, if I’m completely honest, did not want to make a fool of myself.
Teaching is a very complex task that requires constant adaptations in design and action. Meeting each child’s needs requires teachers to be adaptive and innovative. By definition, innovation is an exercise in trying something new and in trying something new teachers are stepping out of their professional comfort zone.
To get me out of my comfort zone and into the gym, someone I trusted opened my mind to it, showed me how to do it, trained alongside me, encouraged me and provided me with feedback. Most importantly, I felt safe in the knowledge that I had nothing to lose if it didn’t work out.
Innovative teaching practices are a direct product of teachers feeling safe to leave their comfort zones. Schools that develop and maintain a truly collaborative culture based on openness, helping each other and trust, empower teachers to try whatever it takes to meet their students’ needs. And that is what we signed up for as educators, weight sessions and all.