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 Zoo Tigers vs. Jungle Tigers: Learning to not only survive, but thrive

1/22/2020 12:00 AM

​Inspiration can come to us in many ways and when we least expect it. I found it while listening to a podcast on my way home from work. It featured motivational speaker Trevor Ragan setting the stage for growth mindset using a relatable analogy of a zoo tiger vs. a jungle tiger. Zoo tigers live in an environment that is easy, safe and free of struggle. Jungle tigers, meanwhile, must face strife and adapt in order to survive. While both tigers' tools are the same – sharp claws, teeth, and stripes – the environment primes the jungle tiger to be able to survive. A zoo tiger has to adapt to the jungle – its struggles, vulnerabilities and failures – in order to survive.

This podcast really spoke to me because of where I was in my own professional journey. In 2006, I graduated from Northern Illinois University with a bachelor's degree in elementary education. I was able to land a job as a sixth grade science teacher at an RPS 205 middle school, but was very apprehensive. I soon found I thoroughly enjoyed the complicated and sometimes emotionally compromised age that is that of the adolescent youth and stayed in the same grade and school for the past 13 years. I began to feel safe, comfortable and, at times, complacent – much like a zoo tiger.

When the opportunity presented itself to become an elementary instructional coach, my gut reaction was apprehension. There was fear of leaving my safety net, fear of failure, fear of not being good enough, ultimately fear of the unknown. I would be a zoo tiger leaving what had been my home, and I was full of uncertainty. Along the way I put faith in my capacity to grow and adapt while acquiring new skills. As Ragan put it, "It's not about where you are, but where you are committed to go." I am committed to growing, even though my flaws are magnified and my shortcomings are more evident than before. But with great risk comes great reward.

On my new journey, I have met countless other risk takers. I am fortunate to be part of an incredible team of change agents at Ellis Elementary School, and I am able to be a part of the impactful things that other instructional coaches are doing inside our district. Within our school, our teachers and staff bring different strengths to our team. Together, they are able to best meet the needs of the whole child. Their continuous data analysis drives their planning, which creates a collaborative and consistent leadership model. I am surrounded by teachers who exude strength and perseverance and look for the opportunity that is hidden in every adversity. They set high expectations while still teaching in authentic and culturally responsive ways. This then instills in our students how to advocate for themselves, their rights, and ultimately their education. As leaders who take risks, we model for our students not only how to survive, but thrive.

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