Teaching Social Studies = Comfort with Discomfort

As Summer 2015 winds down and we start to look forward to a new school year, I thought that this blog from last December still had some thoughts that would resonate with those of us who are:

  1. Mapping our curriculum, planning units and designing lessons to align with the NYS K-12 Social Studies Framework.
  2. Exploring the Inquiries on EngageNY or C3Teachers.
  3. Anxious about change.

Change is hard. Change is good (and inevitable), but change is hard. We are in the midst of change in Social Studies in New York State and it is both exciting and difficult. I have seen reactions ranging from indifference to cautious optimism to outright hostility about the new Framework and Field Guide and the work that is being done on the Resource Toolkit. Information (and misinformation) circulates like wildfire or is impossible to obtain. There are still many unknowns and not knowing makes people uncomfortable. I think we have to get comfortable with the discomfort of not knowing exactly what/when/how things are going to happen, because the reality is that we will never know anything for sure, especially when it comes to changes in education. Margie Warrell uses this graphic in her blog, “Why Getting Comfortable with Discomfort Is Crucial to Success”. (Warrell 2013) Although Warrell is discussing business, not education, I think the graphic seems to capture the essence of where we are right now in Social Studies.

Some people may want to stick to the middle zone, their Comfort Zone, and try to ignore or at least remain indifferent to the changes swirling around them. They may think that everything is just fine the way it is, so why should they change? I would challenge these people not to accept the status quo without at least looking at it with a critical eye. Is your teaching all that can be? Are your students learning all that they can learn? Are you 100% satisfied? If not, then what feels like comfort may be more like being stuck in a rut. A few people may exist in the Terror Zone. They feel overwhelmed and stressed, which might be expressed as defensiveness or hostility to any new ideas or ways of thinking. The Terror Zone is not a great place to be! My hope is that we find more and more teachers inhabiting the Courage Zone of the graphic. The Courage Zone is uncomfortable for sure, but growth and change do not happen without discomfort. People in the Courage Zone are certainly cautious about the changes, but are willing to take risks and see what might develop. They see all of the changes and uncertainties as opportunities to reflect on their practice and consider new ways of thinking and teaching.

The reality is that it is those who move outside of the Comfort Zone are the ones that will reap the rewards. As Warrell states, “Only in giving up the security of the known can we create new opportunity, build capability, and grow influence. As we do, we expand the perimeter of our ‘Courage Zone’ and our confidence to take on bigger challenges in the future.” (Warrell 2013)

Change is hard and inevitable. We can meet change with indifference or hostility or we can meet with courage and a willingness to accept the challenges that come with any change. Speaking as one who has been out in the Social Studies Courage Zone a lot lately, come join me and get comfortable with your discomfort. There is a lot to be learned out here!




Warrell, Margie. “Why Getting Comfortable With Discomfort Is Crucial To Success.” Forbes. April 22, 2013. http://www.forbes.com/sites/margiewarrell/2013/04/22/is-comfort-holding-you-back/ (accessed December 11, 2014).

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