Learning to Embrace the Uncomfortable

Please welcome Veronica Wells to the ACRLog team. Veronica is the Access Services/Music Librarian at University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. She is currently in her first professional position after earning an MLIS and Master of Arts in Music from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Veronica’s research interests include assessment of music information literacy instruction, incorporating emerging technologies into library instruction in a meaningful way, and best practices for educating faculty and students on Copyright Law and intellectual property.

“Be comfortable with being uncomfortable” is something I frequently hear my yoga teachers say. Usually this comes in midway through class, when sweat is dripping and hearts are racing. Part of my mind is saying “Mayday! Mayday! Let’s get out of here!” while the other part is saying “I’m too exhausted to do anything more.” But somehow or another, one pose at a time, I make it through class. And I’m gradually learning that it’s OK to be uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable shows you areas in which you have room to grow.

I was once a yoga teacher myself, a job that typically involves a lot of talking and demonstrating. When I began teaching information literacy sessions, I adopted a similar instructional style. After a short period of adjustment to the very different subject matter, I fell into a comfortable routine: (1) talk at students about research; (2) demonstrate the various library tools; (3) help students one-on-one as they practice individually.

What has always made me uncomfortable — and I mean very uncomfortable — is group work. I’ve always loathed group work, even in high school. Whenever a teacher mentioned that we were going to do a “group activity,” my heart would instantly start to race and my palms would sweat. I feared and hated being forced into collaborations with people I did not know and so I often didn’t contribute much and typically allowed my group members to complete the work. Thus, I never learned much from group activities.

This year I’ve been trying to practice being uncomfortable in my teaching sessions. After thinking a lot about my teaching and reading some excerpts from books like What the Best College Teachers Do by Kevin Bain and The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life by Parker Palmer, I’ve realized that the way I had been teaching was completely informed by the way I like to learn. I was teaching to a bunch of mini-mes, but not every student learns the way that I do. Once I understood the reason I was shying away from group activities, I was able to move beyond my own prejudices.

I made a resolution this school year to try to do a group activity in each of my library sessions. Some of these have involved looking at articles to determine if they are scholarly or popular. Others have taken the form of scavenger hunts in the library. And guess what? Just like in yoga, embracing the uncomfortable moments has allowed me to grow. It has made me more confident in my abilities as a librarian and educator and it has permitted me to let go of some of my issues with trying to control every moment of my library sessions.

Group activities have also greatly benefited my students. They give them the opportunity to speak with and learn from each other. They turn the library classroom into a laboratory where students can experiment with new ideas or library tools. Perhaps I’ve been lucky thus far because in all my group activities, the students have helped to bring each other up as opposed to competing with one another.

I still have a ways to go before I’m entirely comfortable with group activities. For instance, I have a tendency to spend more time preparing than is necessary. As with most things involving change, this will take baby steps.

In what ways can you make your teaching uncomfortable?

Author: Maura Smale

Maura Smale is Chief Librarian at The Graduate Center, City University of New York.

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