Sunday, August 6, 2017

Fear: Friend or Foe?

What is fear? According to Psychology Today, “Fear is a vital response to physical and emotional danger—if we didn't feel it, we couldn't protect ourselves from legitimate threats. But often we fear situations that are far from life-or-death, and thus hang back for no good reason.” I started to think more about fear and the impact it has on the decisions I make. Did fear protect me from danger, or did it cloud my thinking and influence the decisions I was making? I decided to explore my fears a bit deeper to find an answer.
This summer, my family and I visited Door County. We look forward to our annual adventure. We can always count on our favorites: Wild Tomato, Not Licked Yet and Peninsula State Park. Each day begins with a bike ride on the Sunset Bike Trail; 9.6 miles of solitude from the chaos of life. Those who know me are aware of my love-hate relationship with biking. Each year I face my nemesis and leave 
Door County feeling exhilarated and relieved; exhilarated by the beauty and cardiovascular exercise, relieved that I overcame my anxiety and survived (physically and mentally).

Our first bike ride on the Sunset Trail presented a few challenges. First, it was raining. It had rained all night, and there was standing water on the trail. In all the years of riding, we never faced the trail under these conditions. Second, Jackson, my five-year-old son, was no longer in a safety seat on my husband’s bike. This year he graduated to a trail-behind bike. He would still be attached to my husband’s bike, but he would need to be responsible for pedaling, balance and hanging on to the handle bars.
My husband, Chris, unloaded the bikes and we put on our helmets. Jackson got on his bike and was excited to tackle his new challenge. The moment of new adventure was beautiful to watch since Jackson had fears of his own and needed to work through his anxiety on his terms. Jackson's bravery inspired me to hop on my bike and embrace the rain. As we began our journey, my older son, Ethan, and I both noticed that Jackson’s bike did not seem balanced. We watched for a bit; waiting to see if Jackson was leaning and causing the odd position of the bike. I soon realized that the trail-behind was not attached correctly. My son and I signaled to my husband, careful not to alarm Jackson of the possible danger. Chris adjusted the bike, and we were ready to go. I followed behind my family, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what might have happened to Jackson if we didn’t notice the problem. I tried to shake it off; knowing he was safe and experiencing his first trail-behind bike ride. I decided to revisit all the happy memories on the trail and remind myself of my own goals to become a better rider. I was pulled out of my positive self-talk to deal with a more urgent matter, a dangerous trail. I was riding too fast for the conditions, and my bike began to slip to a steep edge of the trail. I used the little experience I had to make some decisions about the moves I must make to return to safety. I accomplished my goal, but my heart was racing. I realized how lucky I was, knowing I could have easily fallen off the trail and been severely hurt.

For the rest of the ride, thoughts filled my head. I kept thinking about all the possible scenarios: Jackson falling off his bike, me plunging off the trail, and the casual riders who do not follow trail rules and put my family at risk. I finally said to myself, “Are the dangers worth the risk?” Twenty-year-old Julie would have immediately answered, “YES! It’s just a bike trail. Get over yourself and ride on!” But a forty something wife, teacher, and mother of two paused before responding. I am no longer responsible for just my life. I need to consider the safety of my husband, my boys and myself. I want to be a strong, fearless role model, but I also need to remember that the world is dangerous and we need to take calculated risks. Is it possible to find a safe balance between these two? Can I be fearless and careful?

Each year I teach my students about the importance of a growth mindset, which encourages students to face failure and view them as temporary setbacks and learning opportunities. To overcome our fears in the classroom, we try to meet them head on by discussing the reasons behind our fears and implementing strategies to support us while we work through them.

First, we come prepared with the right tools for our mission. The tools often include school supplies, laptops, our independent books and a positive attitude. These tools help us feel ready to tackle new learning and challenging situations.

Second, we need patience. Fear and failure can stem from the inability to accomplish a task. We feel uncomfortable, especially when we see others succeeding. We need to be patient with ourselves and realize we might not be where we want to be YET, but we can get there. Perseverance is one way to accomplish our goals. Instruction, conferring and strategy groups are other ways to move past “not yet” to “I can.”

Collaboration is another way to overcome our fears. We can’t always go it alone, especially when tackling new challenges. As a teacher, I often turn to my personalized learning network. We share ideas, best practices, and encourage each other to take risks. I model this for my students and help them to create their PLN. We need others to support us and offer encouragement as we muscle through our learning process. The process and experiences along our learning path will often be what we remember most.

Finally, we need to reflect and celebrate our accomplishments and our mistakes. When we make mistakes, we need to realize there is an opportunity to learn. We need to pause and reflect on moving forward, which is not an easy task. I have to remind myself to reflect at the moment since I often perseverate on my mistakes instead of celebrating my accomplishments. When I see my students falling into the failure trap, I do my best to supply the encouragement they need to understand they might not be there yet, but they will, with the help of their PLN. Celebrations are also important. Success is awesome! We need to take the time to celebrate our accomplishments. This feeling of joy is remembered and can push us to try the next challenge.

I decided that fearless and careful CAN go together if I apply the same beliefs I foster in my classroom to my personal life. I carried my growth mindset with me for the rest of our rides on the Sunset Trail. First, I was sure I had the right tools. I had my bike, comfortable clothing and shoes, water bottle and my helmet. The proper safety equipment gave me the confidence I needed to get started. Next, I reminded myself to be patient with myself, my family, and the other riders on the trail. I can only control my behavior, which means I need to enjoy my experience by keeping my fears in check. Self-monitoring is easier said than done, but it helps to discuss these fears with my PLN. These include my family and my friends who ride. I ask questions and set a goal for each ride so I can improve my skill. I know there will always be unexpected obstacles along the way, but at least I will be more physically and mentally prepared to overcome them when they happen.

The final rides proved to be worth the risk. I had many experiences which brought joy to my heart. I spotted a doe and her fawn standing silently in the woods along the trail. Beautiful. I also witnessed a rider with a cage on the front of his bike. As he came closer, I discovered he had two parrots inside. How often do you see birds in a cage, on a bike, on the Sunset Trail? Crazy! If I did not ride that morning, I would have missed it. I did not miss the chance to watch my boys make decisions on the trail. These experiences helped them learn, grow, overcome challenges, and succeed. My final experience reminded me why I push myself in both my personal and professional life. On the last day, my husband and I rode the trails alone. He is a strong rider, so it took everything I had to keep up with him. We attacked a challenging hill, and by the end, I felt like my heart was going to fly out of my chest. I was so ready to give up. Suddenly, I noticed a group of girls walking on the trail. They looked to be the same age as my sixth-grade students. As I moved slowly past them, they began to cheer, “Way to go! You got this! You can do it!” I smiled, thanked them, and pushed myself to make it to the top of the hill. That bit of encouragement was just what I needed to keep going. The rest of the trail was easy; I was elevated by the kind words the girls so readily offered to a stranger.

As I start my 23rd year of teaching, I will be more conscious of my fears and how they impact my teaching and learning. I will encourage my students to do the same. What do you fear? 

No comments:

Post a Comment