For a couple of months now I’ve been thinking about something that happened to me (or rather didn’t happen), and trying to pin down why it worried me so. Well not worried in a BIG way, but enough to keep me pondering.
I’d better explain.
Recently I have started playing the guitar and singing in public again – after a break of…..well let’s say quite a few years. True I’d done a bit of this before (2 songs at an IATEFL ‘come and sing’ evening I ran with Adrian Underhill a few years back, and a song in the Touchable Dreams show I do with Steve Bingham). But they weren’t happy experiences. My right hand shook and it was clear I’d lost ‘it’ in some way or other. But then, for reasons which are not interesting for this account, I started to get ‘it’ back – I started to want it once more – and so I practised and practised, bought a new guitar and began to think I could perform again.
And then, In June 2011 I agreed to do three guitar-based shows (in three different countries) during a trip I would be doing a month later (this was on top of the usual language-teaching talks I do). I felt very brave making the decision to sign up for these shows, and incredibly scared. But also invigorated in a way, because that’s what ‘moving out of the comfort zone’ does for you – taking risks, going that one bit further. I used to do a teacher development talk about this, and based the whole session on going gliding for the first time. It seemed a good metaphor; flying right outside the comfort zone to produce a feeling of total euphoria and learn more about yourself. Surely teaching should be like that too, I argued.
In a sense all teachers leave the comfort zone every time they meet a new class or teach a brand new lesson, but deciding to do those shows in South America (I hope you are following!) seemed a little more than that. A real risk. An exciting and terrifying risk.
But – and you don’t really want to know this, but it’s necessary – I have a problem with my finger nails. They keep breaking. And that’s not good if you are a finger-picking guitarist. So I asked guitar virtuoso Jason Carter for advice, and he recommended false nails and glue as well as having my nails painted with acrylic paint to strengthen them. I found a nail beauty clinic in Cambridge (where I live) and made an appointment (for the acrylic painting). The next day, therefore, I turned up and stood outside the glass-fronted salon. It was full of women. Only women. I couldn’t see a counter or a reception area. I wouldn’t know which of the women to talk to. I walked towards the open door. Some of the women saw me, a strange-looking man loitering outside a beauty clinic. I thought: I should go in now and say ‘I have an eleven o’clock appointment. Can anyone help me?’ But I couldn’t do it. I walked away from the window and thought about it. Turned back. Tried to walk into that clinic again. And then I lost my nerve and like some loser, returned to the car and drove home, chastened and ridiculous.
But the experience got me thinking. Why didn’t I have the nerve to enter that nail clinic, that women-only world? Surely the situation was a classic ‘out of the comfort zone’ experience I should, based on my own talk, have relished. But it wasn’t, and the only thing I can think of was that it was TOO uncomfortable, an uncomfort zone too far, so far out of the zone that I could not cross that threshold (yes I know it was ridiculous; I’ve said that already!)
And so, perhaps, it might be time for a new kind of zone, a ZCPD, a zone of comfortable proximal development. The formula might go something like this: the best way to develop – as a teacher or anything else – is to move out of the comfort zone BUT NOT TOO FAR – or at least only when you are ready for it. Maybe THAT would be an easier concept to sell than the one-time bungee-jumping, glider-flight, nail clinic kind of terror that could be a step too far.
What do you think? Does the concept of a ZCPD do it for you??!!