College Learning and Living: The importance of stretching beyond our comfort zone

Fishing is a popular pastime in my family and has become my favorite way to spend free time as an adult. There are many expressions and phrases that I have heard over the years related to fishing. However, there is one that I use regularly today both on and off the water: “You can’t catch a fish if you don’t put a line in the water.”

Fishing line in water

This translates to: “In order to succeed you must put forth effort.” This is a crucial concept when working with the population of students we have at Mansfield Hall.

Success takes effort

“I don’t want to go to the Math Lab…I don’t think the people in the Writing Center can help me…I don’t want to go my yoga class today.”

These are familiar responses I hear from students at Mansfield Hall as we work on educational plans and talk about available support opportunities and other strategies. They allow me the opportunity to use my favorite phrase from fishing.

When students hear me say, “You can’t catch a fish if you don’t put a line in the water,” they have been known to flash me a quizzical look. This look indicates that I now have a captive audience with whom I can explain my favorite fishing phrase.

We will never be able to reach our goals if we don’t put forth some form of effort. In my experience, we just need to provide enough supports to get the student started on completing a particular task. I ask my students to engage in a variety of activities outside of their comfort zone to help address their deficit areas such as, writing research papers, reading comprehension instruction, quiz and examination preparation strategies, and subject area tutoring to name a few. 

Stretching the comfort zone builds confidence

Recently a student received a poor grade on their first quiz of the semester in a difficult math course. I met with the student and requested they go to the Math Lab and work with a tutor to review what went wrong on the quiz. The student immediately told me, “I can figure it out on my own. I just need to spend some time figuring it out.”

Eventually the student went to the Math Lab and reported back, “It wasn’t so bad.” The student returned to the Math Lab on multiple occasions leading up to their first examination. The result? The student received an ‘A’ on the examination and was feeling really good about herself.  And I was pleased to see this student expressing how pleased she was with the effort she put forth to receive this grade.

It reminded me of how happy I am when I catch a beautiful fish on Lake Champlain. If I am just sitting in the boat looking at the water I will never catch a fish. But if I put a line in the water, anything is possible!

photo via flickr
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