A Simple Way I Show Students They’re Growing Every Day

by | 06.27.21

Livia Chan is a teacher in British Columbia, Canada. Follow her on Twitter @LiviaChanL .

In the very first week of school, my students and I have a conversation about our comfort zones. I draw a circle and say, “Everything inside this circle is what’s in your comfort zone: All the things that you do without even batting an eye.” 

Then I draw another ring around the circle and tell them, “Everything inside this circle is in your stretch zone. Those are things that you sometimes have to talk yourself into doing. To do these things, you might have to breathe and remind yourself: ‘I’m braver than I think.’”

The rest of the space is the outside zone – the panic zone. I tell students, “That zone is just beyond your stretch zone. It’s all the things you just can’t do yet – or at least you tell yourself that you can’t do them.”

Students draw their own comfort circles and stretch zones. We take a photo for their digital portfolios, and they keep the piece of paper at the front of their binders. I then remind them almost every day that we want to be in that stretch zone. That’s where we grow. By spending time in the stretch zone, we expand our comfort zone. I tell them: “You actually don’t even really know where your comfort zone ends until you push yourself into that stretch zone.”

Throughout the day, there are so many opportunities for students to challenge themselves. For some kids, that might just mean putting up their hand to speak. For some of them, it’s sharing the work they’ve just completed. For some of them, it’s asking somebody else to collaborate with them. 

Sometimes, I’ll give them a challenge. I’ll say, “OK, today we’re really going to focus on being in a stretch zone.” We’ll do a reflection at the end of class, and I’ll say, “How many times do you feel like you put yourself in your stretch zone today?” Then we celebrate. I just love how proud they are when they recognize that they’ve grown. At the end of the school year, when I ask them to reflect on life lessons they will carry with them from our time together, they often highlight this experience. Here’s what a couple students shared at the end of this school year:

  • “The biggest life lessons I learned from Ms. Chan is that she pushes us out of our comfort zone. Like, for example, if you don’t like going in front of the class Ms. Chan would help you and encourage you to go out of your comfort zone to talk in front of the class.”
  • “The biggest life lesson I learned from Ms. Chan is that I can push myself outside of my comfort zone. “

When I started using this language and reminding students about their goals, they began to grow in so many different ways. I’ve had students who had trouble believing in themselves, and this helps all students see that they’re somebody who can grow when they put in the effort and the time. Every day, they’re thinking about what it means to stretch themselves. And they are celebrating and encouraging each other when they see each other step into their stretch zone – or even their panic zone. It’s so powerful when they recognize those moments and cheer for each other. 

Every day, I want them to feel like they’ve grown in some way. Because we’re in school for quite a few days, right? Close to 200 days a year. One day can roll into the next and next. But if students recognize their goals and reflect, that’s when they can say, “Oh, I did stretch myself today. I can see myself growing.” 

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