This year, we have added several new teachers to our staff. As a result, our administration decided we should devote some time to team-building activities. Our school is the largest middle school in the area; and, consequently, we don't get many opportunities to interact with anyone other than those teachers who teach on our teams or those teachers who teach the same grade level.
To say I was a little distressed about the team-building activities would be an understatement. I am not an athletic person; nor am I an extrovert. My idea of "getting to know"other adults is sharing favorite authors or discussing timeless classics over a cup of coffee.
In a room filled with 12-year-olds, I love movement breaks and funny games. In a room filled with grown-ups, I'm the quiet one whose neck is covered with nervous blotches.
We all gathered in the gym after lunch; and I buddied up with one of my fellow language arts teachers. Like a good sport, I faced the first few activities with a nervous grin pasted on my face. It wasn't as bad as I had feared. For the first few games, we were able to choose our own partners. I felt safe in my comfort zone. Just as I was beginning to loosen up, we were instructed to find a new partner...someone we did not work with on a regular basis.
I moved frantically around the gym floor, scrambling to find a somewhat familiar face so I didn't end up the odd one out. Fortunately, Lora W., a sixth grade science teacher was jostled to the outside of the milling crowd about the same time I was. She and I high-fived (per direction from the leader) and waited silently, and awkwardly, for further instruction.
The leader pointed out two sets of cones set about four yards apart. He then began tossing all manner of objects on the floor between the cones...dog toys, foam pool noodles, various sized rubber balls, and a few items I couldn't even recognize. Next, he handed each team of two a blindfold and told us to decide who would walk through the minefield he'd just created and who would provide directions.
I ended up with the blindfold. I would be walking through the minefield. I can barely walk and chew gum at the same time.
I wondered if I should let Lora know that I would not be easy to direct. I wondered if I should tell her how clumsy I am. I wondered if we would be the last team to make it through all the obstacles.
Lora suggested that we walk around the perimeter of the minefield and get a good look at all the obstacles. Then it was time to line up at the starting cones.
I secured my blindfold, resisting the urge to leave a little space to peek out the bottom.
Lora began to guide me. She sounded calm and confident.
"Take three steps forward," she said. I took tiny, shuffling baby steps.
"Take three more," Lora encouraged.
"Wait a minute," Lora warned. "Someone just moved an obstacle."
"Okay, move forward two steps. Now lift your right leg about knee-high and take a big step forward."
Worried that I might fall flat on my face, I swallowed my fear and stepped tall.
"Excellent!" Lora exclaimed. "You are so agile!"
Agile? I felt my cheeks turning pink beneath the bottom edge of the blindfold. Me? Agile?
"Turn 90 degrees to your right," Lora prompted. Her voice was loud and clear from the outside of the minefield. She wasn't allowed to enter the area between the cones.
I shuffled around.
"Perfect!" Lora hollered. I tuned out the other guides who were also instructing their blindfolded partners.
"Take four small steps forward. Now, you'll need to take another big step...just like last time. You can do it!"
I stepped with confidence. I was agile!
"Awesome!" Lora cheered. "We're almost through the minefield!"
I continued to follow her directions, making it to the end cones without one single misstep. I felt like an American Ninja Warrior.
I removed the blindfold, and Lora and I high-fived again.
"You did great!" she said.
"So did you," I told her. "I can't remember the last time I felt so encouraged."
It was nice to be told I was doing a good job, to receive an unexpected compliment, to make it through a series of obstacles unscathed, to have my own personal coach and cheerleader all rolled up in one.
I though to myself, "I need to REMEMBER (my one little word this year) this experience."
Sometimes I get to enjoy my comfort zone. Sometimes I need to get jostled outside my circle. Sometimes I need to coach and cheer; but sometimes I need to step into the minefield myself...so I don't forget what it feels like to try to be agile and social and confident even when I feel clumsy and quiet and insecure.