Last night, my children and I sat down to watch the new season of American Ninja Warrior. For those of you unfamiliar with the show, it is a competition where incredibly talented and athletic people try to complete an extremely difficult obstacle course. My children absolutely love the show, and were riveted by the drama presented in front of them, sitting on the edge of their seats, as they waited for the first person to complete the course. My children also have a vested interest in watching the show as they just recently began training at a Ninja Warrior gym where several of the competition hopefuls complete their training.
What I love about the show is the limit to which the contestants push themselves. It is always amazing to watch a competitor complete an obstacle on the second or third try when it didn’t seem physically possible. I watch the show with my three children because it shows them that anything is possible, if you work hard and push yourself to your limits.
As I was watching the show last night, I thought about growth and improvement as an educator. I thought about what it takes to truly grow as an educational professional, and I determined that like the athletes, we must push ourselves to our limits. While the ninjas push themselves to their physical limits, we must push ourselves to our farthest limits as professional learners and educators.
Try these strategies for pushing yourself to your limits in order to become a better educator.
Extend yourself past your level of comfort. Continuing down the path of least resistance can be easy. Trying a new path, in learning something new, or doing something that you’ve never done before can make you feel uncomfortable. I would argue that the uncomfortable feeling shows that you are trying. Without that discomfort, you may not be learning anything new. When I felt really comfortable as a fifth grade teacher, I decided to become a basic skills teacher when an opportunity presented itself. I felt extremely uncomfortable in moving to the new position, but learned so much in that first year. Make discomfort part of your everyday routine. Try something new every day. Learn something new every day.
Keep trying to overcome obstacles. As I said, one of the best parts of the show is watching people who will absolutely NOT give up. Many of the contestants return even after they have failed in the previous year. Educators must do the same. If something doesn’t work the first time that you try it, try it again the next day, or wait a week and try it again. The key is to learn something from your earlier failures. Think about the one thing that can help you move forward when you consider obstacles. Ask yourself, “what was the one thing that held me back yesterday? How can I overcome it today?”
Don’t overthink it! On the show, contestants often fail when they overthink an obstacle. So much thought goes into one obstacle that they don’t pay attention to other obstacles or they use up all of their energy trying to complete the one obstacle, left exhausted for the rest of the course. Educators can be the same way. We often overthink our decisions, carefully planning for hours on end. Calculate less. Live in the moment, and sometimes go with your gut feeling. Let students lend you their expertise so that you don’t have to think so much.
Find some training partners. Several successful competitors belong to a group known as the Wolfpack, a group who train together to bring out the best in each other. Find a group of like minded educators who will challenge you to improve your game. Start a professional book club with some colleagues. Join a twitter chat and connect with others for professional learning. Stretch your thinking by having conversations with other educators who may not directly agree with your viewpoints.
So, today is the day for you to become a ninja! Push your limits as an educator. Find ways to extend yourself in your learning. Share some of your strategies for pushing yourself in the comments section below.