February 23, 2016 by

Get Uncomfortable: Grow as Leader

Leading for Equity: Understanding Poverty to Reach, Motivate, and TeachBy Danielle Brown

Leading for Equity: Addressing the Effects of PovertyOne of the biggest changes I made as a leader in my classroom, district, state, and now at the national level was to get uncomfortable. I don’t mean pants too tight after a Thanksgiving meal uncomfortable, or stepping on a Lego uncomfortable. I am talking about the sweaty palms uncomfortable, the uneasy stomach uncomfortable, the cracking voice uncomfortable—the uncomfortable that can be fleeting if you push through it.

As a small town/small district teacher, I had to learn to get uncomfortable. I enjoyed being comfortable. Who doesn’t? My peers in my school knew me, my students knew me, and my students’ parents knew me. I was comfortable having conversations with these groups of people, sharing what I knew, and learning from them. And that was enough . . . until I volunteered to help with a Title I parent presentation on Just Right Books. Envision a first-year teacher in a room full a parents—no longer just my parents—serving as the expert on choosing Just Right Books. I can only think of one word to describe this scenario: uncomfortable. I am sure I was sweating profusely, and my voice was uncontrollably jumping octaves, as it does when I am uncomfortable. Yet none of that mattered when it was over; the parents didn’t seem bothered by my discomfort. They stayed after to ask me for more resources, had me model strategies so they could try them at home, and wanted my contact information in case they had questions later. This happened six years ago, and I still get uncomfortable. But that’s OK—when I am uncomfortable, I am growing.

Below are some ways you, too, can get uncomfortable and grow as a leader.

Seek opportunities outside of your comfort zone. For me, this meant applying to national opportunities, such the Hope Street Group National Teacher Policy fellowship (I am now a fellow working alongside 17 other talented educators from across the nation), or applying for grants to push myself as a facilitator of learning.

Think before saying yes or no. When asked to do something, think about it before answering. Sometimes being uncomfortable pushes us to make rash decisions. Give yourself time to think about the work at hand. Can you commit? How will this further push you to be uncomfortable? What support do you have or will you need? Then make the decision.

Make your own path. As a participant in the Teacher Leadership Initiative, a collaboration between NEA and CTQ, I created a plan for a peer-mentoring system that wasn’t in place in my school or district. It wasn’t something that hadn’t been done before, and I forged a new path. It was uncomfortable, but I had a plan and set out to execute it. Things may have not gone as I envisioned. Fortunately, the district recognized the need for mentors and began working on something of its own. Make your own path, get uncomfortable, and, when it gets bumpy, ask for support.

Let rejection make you uncomfortable and then grow from it. I don’t necessarily like to use the word rejection, but there are times you will be rejected. The rejection isn’t what will define you; what you do after will. Let the rejection make you uncomfortable, then move through it. Ask for feedback, learn from your mistakes, resolve to make your own path, find others to collaborate with, and try again. Don’t allow discomfort to hinder your progress—when you are uncomfortable, you are growing.

How have you pushed through discomfort to grow as a leader? How has being uncomfortable changed the way you lead?


Danielle Brown is a National Board–certified teacher in Arizona. She is a 2015 Emerging Leader and a Hope Street Group National Teacher Policy Fellow. Brown also blogs for www.storiesforschoolaz.com, connecting policy to practice in the classroom. Connect with her on Twitter @TeachDB17.