A Little Fear Is A Good Thing

Yesterday afternoon, my previous vice principal, Kristi, tweeted me a picture shared by Jackie Gerstein. She thought that it might act as a possible blog provocation for me, and it definitely did.


While this picture really looks at the fear of technology, I think that we can extrapolate from this, the fear of “anything new.”

I can’t help but think back on many conversations that I’ve had with colleagues over the years about a new approach just being a “passing fad.” With education constantly changing, it’s sometimes hard not to question the permanency of anything new, but then again, does any approach need to be permanent? I wonder what would happen if the picture above was shared with staff members during a staff meeting or professional development day. What might people say? How might they react? Would change be seen in a different way?

I know that change is hard. Sometimes it’s really frustrating. Sometimes as we’re being asked to explore different programs, tools, and approaches — some of which may not naturally align with our own beliefs on how children learn best — it’s hard not to question why we don’t just go back and use something that’s worked before. But did these other programs, tools, and approaches work for everyone? Could there be a better way? Maybe a change would allow us to reach the same students that we did before, but also reach those few students that didn’t succeed. It’s those students that always make me wonder what more could I do? And it’s for those students that I will regularly embrace change because as hard as these changes may be for me, maybe these changes will make a difference for them. 

At one time or another, we’re all scared. As the picture above shows, we’re not alone. If we never worked past this fear though, we may not have been where we are today. So I’m going to continue being happy with a little bit of fear, and I hope that others will as well. How do you embrace fear of the new? How do you help others do the same? What are benefits or drawbacks that you see to doing so? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


6 thoughts on “A Little Fear Is A Good Thing

  1. Aviva, I have been meaning to comment on your blog posts for a while now. So this one seems like a great place to start the conversation. I have been in love with your themes this week. In fact they have been resonating with my Keynote for our Google Camp in May.

    Change is hard! However, it is the fear of change or really failing that is holding people back. Yes I agree that some small fear is important, especially in education. There is a lot of factors to think about and sometimes I don’t think we see the bigger picture in our small classroom. I also think that it is easier to do small changes in our school then at a board level. Each time our sphere grows you have more factors to think about that can hinder or affect the speed that change happens.

    I think what is important to keep in mind is to think big but to grow small. You have to have a strong group of followers who will continue the push forward. Have you read Seth Godin’s book, Tribes? I think you would really like it. It talks a lot about leadership and more importantly change.

    Now I know that comment was more about the change part, so onto the thought of fear. I think the biggest problem that we have as educators is that our fears don’t only impact ourselves but also our students. When we are afraid of moving on or trying something new we indirectly pass that on to our students. We are for better or worse the models that our students follow. When I think about the skills that I want my students to embody it requires them to lose the fear of failure. To be honest that is the number one thing that holds change back, failure. I don’t think it has anything to do with the lack of wanting to change but more that we don’t want to look stupid doing it. But failure is healthy! Its needed! I think we have to train our selves to have that growth mindset. The mindset that all learning is good but that is hard too.

    However, I still think that the best way to help people is through quiet leadership and small pushes. When other teachers see the amazing success in your own classroom or ponder how your kids can do what they do, they start to ask questions. Those questions lead to small changes, which leads to people adopting and growing your tribe. As the tribe grows so does the change. The wave just gets bigger and bigger. The only thing is you must maintain the relationships or those small pushes loose momentum.

    Sorry for the long reply, thanks for all the posts.

    • Thanks for the comment, Jonathan, and for always giving me so much to think about. I haven’t read Seth Godin’s book, but I remember you mentioning it in a blog post of yours, and maybe it would be a good March Break read. (I always enjoy having a new book to read!)

      I can totally understand your points here. I wonder though how much is always seen at a large school. Do people always know what’s happening in somebody else’s classroom, and if they do, do they always take interest in it? What if your approach varies significantly from other people’s approaches? I don’t think that this variation is a bad thing. Diversity can be great! But I remember sitting in a keynote presentation once, and the speaker saying that, “people need to learn from others that are just ahead of where they’re currently at.” (This is paraphrased, but the idea is the same.) Does this always happen in school though? Depending on where everyone’s starting at, your approach may be way outside of their comfort zone (and vice versa). How do we accommodate for this?

      I also wonder/worry that as we’re looking at change, are we saying that one approach is right and another one is wrong? Different approaches may work for different students at different times. I’ve visited lots of classrooms before with lots of teachers that do things differently than I might, but I’ve always left with a new idea to try or something new to add to what I’m currently doing. Change doesn’t necessarily mean giving up all that we’ve done before. It can also be about little tweaks and/or new considerations. I wonder sometimes if the fear comes from the worry that we’ll need to “start again,” when it fact, that doesn’t need to be the case.

      As for the impact of the fear on students, I think that the other impact is that not changing may mean not trying something out that could help a student succeed. Yes, I agree with you that we need to show students the value in failing, learning from these failures, and trying again. We also need to show them that they all matter to us, and that we want to do everything we can to support them and their learning. Getting uncomfortable, making changes, and trying something new, may help those one or two students achieve success that were unsuccessful before … and this change shows those students how much we care about them, believe in them, and want to support them. This says something to them!

      Yes, fear and change can both be good things!

      • Before I came to Ray Lawson I would have said no but being at my current school I would say yes. This has a lot to do with the administration and the climate that everyone is working towards. We have numerous co-teaching, co-planning and co debriefing sessions. Our grade teams are always planning together and as a school we continuously talk about our practises. This again is because of our principal and admin team. Without this set up then it wouldn’t have happened.

        I also think that we have to get over my approach your approach and look at what is best for students and student achievement. Yes there are certain no negotiable that are important: student voice, talk, exploration, graphic organizers, etc. All have been established as best practises by our Ministry. There needs to be more work around climate and building a school atmosphere around collaboration and professional dialogue. One with no judgement but honest talk.

        I use to be the one that bashed people over the head with ideas but that got me no where. Now its the quiet nudge and offer of help when needed. My change is done through building relationships and then fostering them. Its using what people already do in the classroom and tweaking one thing and then reflecting and moving forward.

        To be honest I think this tends to lead to everyone eventually coming on the same page. Like Kristi pointed out, we are all not on the same pages as to when change happens. It takes time because we are all different learners with different styles but that is okay. Good teaching is good teaching. I think though that there needs to be open professional dialogue about it.

        As for being ahead of the curve I would say that yes I am and I know that. Now its about showing why and helping others get to that point too. It is also about helping others sustain that and push their friends and colleagues to that point. I don’t have the right way of doing things but I also know that what I am doing is sound pedagogy and my students love it. That starts the conversation. Relationships continue the rest.

        • Thanks for the reply, Jonathan! You make great points here about quiet pushes and building relationships. Both matter. And I like the idea of everyone coming together, and having those honest discussions that often result in good changes. I see that happening more and more at my school too. I really appreciate my principal and vice principal for encouraging team sharing and supporting us by giving us a chance to share and learn from each other. This matters. I think it would be great if more people could share about approaches that have worked for them, and then we can all learn from each other. You make an incredibly important point that ultimately these changes benefit kids. This is maybe where the discussion needs to start.


  2. I loved the info graphic, too. I tagged you in the post because I thought it resonated with your last post as well. It made me reflect to and helped me write a post today as well. I guess as a provocation, it worked for us! Change is hard and fear is a natural first reaction to it. It is what we do with that and what our next reactions will be determines if change happens. If we reflect, plan and take risks, change will happen despite our fear. If we model this (as you do so well!) for others – be they student learners or adults – we can inspire change and risk taking in others too. I agree that quiet pushes that Jonathan mentions is an effective tool – but not for every one, every time. That works if people are intrinsically motivated to change and reflective enough to recognize the need for change. You seem to be questioning how to effect change in those that don’t react this way. Modelling helps, I think. Getting at the root of that person’s fear is another, but that requires a whole lot of trust, and coaching once you get there to help them move beyond it. Time also helps. Our timelines for change don’t always match someone else’s. Patience, listening and coaching would be the prescription for that. Just keep working at it!

    • Thanks Kristi! I just read your comment now after writing a blog post in response to your latest one, and it’s as I think about your post, that I can see how reflection and change align so well. I know that change can be a slow process. I also know that sometimes it’s not just us that want faster changes, but also Board and Ministry requirements that might make us need to change at a faster pace. This works well if we’re one to embrace change, but it’s harder if we’re not. I’ve come to realize that it’s not about the “pace of our changes,” as much as the fact that we don’t “get stuck where we’re at.” We’re all starting from different points, so it makes sense that we may not all get to the same place at the same time. But I think there is that need to keep moving forward. I like your suggestion about the need for “patience, listening, and coaching,” and maybe it’s about also knowing when people are ready for the changes. They may not all be ready at the same time, but seeing success with others, may inspire more change. I know this works for me. Thanks for the encouragement and the support, and thanks for helping bring about many positive changes in me!


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