Overcoming the Fears That Limit Our Teaching and Learning

Editors Features February / Out of the Box February / Out of the Box March / March 18, 2019

Social-Emotional Support (SES)

Teachers need social-emotional support, too. FLGI surveys suggest that one of the biggest barriers to teachers migrating from traditional passive instruction to active learning strategies may tie to the need for social-emotional support. Many teachers are simply overwhelmed and teaching on an empty emotional tank. Their deepest social and emotional needs are unmet.

This section focuses on providing the social-emotional support we all need before we even can consider Flipped Learning. This project was developed to be the missing link in the unsuccessful efforts to move more teachers from passive to active learning.

In this section of the magazine, you can either read the transcripts or listen to the episodes of a podcast called Teachers’ Aid, with Jon Harper and Mandy Froehlich. Every topic takes on one of the biggest social-emotional challenges teachers face in search of real answers. We affectionately call this project the FLGI pyramid scheme: Maslow’s pyramid first, Bloom’s pyramid second. Enjoy the transcript below or listen to the entire show at the bottom of the transcript.


Teachers’ Aid


Jon Harper:  So often, we are told to think outside the box, take risks, and be innovative, but sometimes that comes with a certain amount of anxiety and fear. That fear can stop us from moving forward. Does this ever happen to you, Mandy?

Mandy Froehlich:  Yeah, absolutely. I have missed out on a ton of opportunities to improve in my own teaching, in myself, and be better for my students, just because I was afraid to try something new. I’ve been learning a bit about the role our brain plays in our fear, and much of what I’ve learned has actually been from our guest today, Trevor Ragan. Welcome, Trevor, and thank you so much for being on Teacher’s Aid today.

Jon Harper: We talk in education a lot about embracing failure, and that we should be risk-taking to find new and innovative ways of teaching, but failing can be scary. How can fear affect us in moving forward in any areas of our lives?

Trevor Ragan: I think fear is an emotion that’s always at play and really understand it, you could argue, is one of the most important things we can do in really any arena we operate in, but especially in learning pursuits. It’s an emotion that everyone can relate to. It’s the fear of messing up, the fear of change, the fear of being judged. I think everyone listening could identify hundreds of times in the last year where that feeling got in the way of a learning pursuit, of an opportunity that could have helped us grow and get better. I think digging into that, and understanding that emotion, and where it comes from, and what we could do about it; like I said, I think it’s just such an important topic.

Jon Harper: Okay, so you say we all fear. We all have it, which I definitely agree. We’ve all probably experienced it hundreds of times in the last year, but how do we not let it paralyze us?

Trevor Ragan: There’s a lot. I think one is to accept the fact that it is okay to feel fear. If you get into the science, … this emotion is coming from a part of our brain called our amygdala. Guess what? Everyone has an amygdala. It’s sort of wired for survival. It’s wired to keep us safe. It’s wired to create this emotion of fear to steer us from danger, which is great if we’re in danger. It’s really great to avoid the thing that causes the fear when we’re in danger. The problem is, it doesn’t really know the difference between the good challenges, or the dangerous ones, or the good or bad risks, so its tactic is to really just avoid them altogether.

This is why we sometimes feel weird about asking questions in a group. This is why we feel weird about working on a project out of our comfort zone. It’s why we feel a little afraid before a job interview or a big presentation. It’s our amygdala. It’s detecting a threat, and like I said, it doesn’t know whether we’re in danger or not. It just knows we’re doing something that’s uncertain, something that involves struggle, something that involves attention, something that involves change. All of those things are going to trigger and enhance fear.

Trevor Ragan:  I think step one to dealing with this is accepting the fact that fear is okay. That may seem like a simple step, but it’s arguably the most important because the problem is the way we are taught to think about fear is that it’s a bad thing. We’re taught that because our default approach to fear is to tell people to not be afraid or to be fearless. Everyone has said that. Everyone has heard that. The signal that we’re sending when we’re saying, “Be fearless,” or, “Don’t be afraid,” paints the wrong picture around fear, because think about it, if you tell me to be fearless or not to be afraid, and then I’m about to go into a job interview, and I’m sitting on that little couch, about to go in, I’m going to feel some fear. The instructions you told me were to not feel fear, so now I’m sitting on that couch going, “Uh-oh, I’m not supposed to feel like this. I’m supposed to be fearless.”

Jon Harper:  Yeah, there’s something wrong with me, right?

Trevor Ragan: Yeah. I’m supposed to be fearless, but I am afraid, so I must not be ready. I don’t deserve this. I’m not prepared. No one else feels like this. All of this can actually make the fear worse. When we frame fear as a negative thing, or when we try to suppress it, a lot of research shows that it gets worse. If you lay it out like that, it’s kind of a logical progression. The antidote is, well, let’s frame it differently. Let’s frame it as more of a normal thing or a positive thing. Let’s understand that if I’m feeling fear before a presentation, it doesn’t mean I’m not ready. It means I’m a human. It means I have an amygdala, and that’s okay.

Step one is really to accept that. Step two is just sort of, just change our relationship with fear. Understand that it’s okay. It doesn’t mean it’s fun to feel it. It doesn’t mean we’re going to get rid of it, but in changing our relationship with it, we can start to put ourselves in more situations where we feel fear, but we don’t let it make our decisions, especially when it comes to learning. That’s what we’re really after.

Mandy Froehlich: I can really relate to this because I do a lot of public speaking, and whether it’s for my day job or the other things I do for my books, people laugh at me when I say, “I have this extreme fear of public speaking.” People have told me, “Well, you need to get over that,” but I always look at it like, I can’t get over it. I just need to learn to kind of acknowledge it, and put it in a corner, and be like, “Yup, it’s there.” Is that kind of how you would recommend people do that?

Trevor Ragan:  Absolutely. This isn’t something we get over. We get better at dealing with it. That’s why, we look at people who are like they must not be afraid. No; they are. They have that emotion. They have an amygdala. They’ve just developed the skill of doing what they have to do when they feel those nerves. I’ve done probably a thousand talks in the last three years, and before, during, and after every single one, I’m freaking out a little bit. That’s a ridiculous amount of reps, but I’m still afraid. It’s just like performers on Broadway. They don’t stop feeling butterflies. They get better at dancing and singing with that emotion because they have a lot of practice doing it. That’s, again, kind of what we’re after.

The other thing I do want to say is that we say that dealing with fear or dancing with fear, that’s a skill, which means, look, we can start small with this. Our argument isn’t, okay, now that you heard this, go find the thing that freaks you out the most tomorrow. It’s like, no. Just like any skill, we start small. Maybe it’s as small as, “I feel fear, but I ask a question or speak up anyways. I feel fear, but I work on a project that’s out of my comfort zone.” As I start to do that more, I’m getting better at this skill. That’s sort of building that muscle and helping me prepare for the bigger leaps.

Jon Harper: Trevor, on your website, trainugly.com, you reference jungle tigering. Can you tell us what in the world that means, what that’s about, and how it applies to education?

Trevor Ragan:  Sure. Jungle tigering is our biggest goal in a learning pursuit. Jungle tigering is our way of talking about comfort zones. We talk about a tiger living in the jungle versus a tiger living in the zoo, and it’s pretty easy to contrast those two environments. The idea is because the jungle tiger lives in the wild, it struggles more. It faces more challenges. It has to solve more problems, but it absolutely learns and grows way more than the tiger living in the zoo. Now, the zoo is easy and comfortable, and it doesn’t really involve challenges and problems, but because those things are absent, so will growth and development.

Trevor Ragan:  The idea here is, tigers don’t have a choice if they live in a zoo or live in the jungle, but we do. Every day, no matter who we are, we’re presented jungle tiger moments. Problems, challenges, obstacles, change. When we’re presented those moments, we get to choose what to do with them. We can choose to learn from them and experience them. We can choose to hide from them and avoid them. That’s a choice we make every day. The idea is, the more times we choose to jungle tiger those situations, the more we grow. Just like anything, we’re not going to be perfect with this. We’re not going to jungle tiger every challenge we’re faced with, but the more we do it, the better we get. (The) argument is if we choose right and better more often, we’re going to get better.

Mandy Froehlich: All right. If they want more information, they can go to your website, because your website’s phenomenal, too.

Trevor Ragan:  I did two TEDx talks. There’s one about jungle tigering and one about fear, so those are on the website. Each one obviously expands on the stuff we just talked about.

Jon Harper: Awesome.

Mandy Froehlich: Awesome. Thank you, Trevor, so much for being here on “Teachers’ Aid.” It has been an absolute pleasure to have you here and to talk about fear like this. This was amazing. Thank you so much.


Editorial Leam
Editorial Team
This article was written by a collaboration of editors and columnists on the FLR editorial team or guest contributors.

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