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“Aren’t you afraid of the bears?” This is a question I’m often asked. It’s usually followed by, “And what about the snakes?” I’m far from fearless, but bears and snakes do not even make my top five when backpacking.
Here are my wilderness fears in priority order.
2. Heat exhaustion
4. Bee stings or tick bites
5. Falls (especially at creek crossings)
Fear is a good motivator and can keep us out of trouble, but irrational fear can only paralyze. I know someone (an excellent teacher) who will not step foot into the woods because of fear. She is sure that bears and snakes are hiding behind trees, ready to attack. While I’m respectful of bears and don’t sleep with a raw steak in my tent, I would consider it a treat to see an Arkansas black bear at a reasonable distance. I was once enjoying a freshwater spring and noticed a snake a few feet away curled up in the leaves. I decided to move quietly down the trail, but the image of that beautiful copperhead made the hike memorable.
Like my friend’s obsessive fear of wildlife, I think we educators sometimes fear the wrong things. I’d like to retrieve those sleepless nights caused by my irrational fears. Are we ready for Standards Review? What if we worded some ACSIP actions incorrectly? What if I don’t pass Phase II of TESS? I could go on, but you get the idea. Obsessing on these areas didn’t solve anything. In some cases, they distracted me from more important areas that impact students.
As an educator, here are a few legitimate fears I have (in no particular order):
1. Spending time and energy on the wrong things.
2. Overlooking or missing students who are in need.
3. Making a mistake when hiring a new teacher.
4. Failing to help those around me grow professionally and personally.
5. Reaching a point where I’m not learning and growing.
Preparation and planning can make a difference when facing legitimate fears. Want to avoid dehydration in the woods? Pack a water filter and study your map to see where water sources are along your route. Sometimes route adjustments are necessary to avoid water shortages while hiking. The same holds true as an educator. We must prepare and make adjustments based on things that matter.
If I fear spending time and energy on the wrong things, then I should work with my staff so that we base actions on priorities and evidence. I must learn to prune out actions that don’t move students and teachers forward. I should speak up for AAEA legislative positions that help us avoid directives that take away from the essential work of teaching and learning.
If I fear that I might fail to help those around me grow professionally, I should involve staff in preparing their professional learning to ensure that it is relevant to their professional growth plans. We must ensure that adult learning facilitates children’s learning. I can make my teachers’ professional learning a priority and recognize their growth.
Being involved in the AAEA can alleviate my fear of becoming stagnant in my own professional learning. I’m often surprised when I trace an effective action back to its beginning and realize it was based on something I learned while networking with peers through the AAEA, and my two constituent organizations.
We’re all motivated by fear to some extent, and that’s probably healthy. Will we be paralyzed by irrational fear, hunkering down and hoping for the best? If we’re motivated by legitimate fears that will negatively impact students and teachers, then thoughtful actions could reduce those fears and help us all move in positive directions. We might also get a better night’s sleep.
The above was written for the January 2014 issue of The Administrator newsletter published by the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators.