Getting Uncomfortable to Better Serve Students

“Get uncomfortable!” the fitness teacher yells at my workout class.  With this direction I, along with the rest of the class, increase the speed on the treadmill. No one in the class hesitates as they seek uncomfortableness and aside from my fear of falling off the treadmill, no one seems scared.  So why do so many of us, particularly white people, shy away from being uncomfortable when we talk about race?   We’re willing to pay for the feeling in a gym, but not when it relates to equity?  How do we make the teams we work with seek the same difficult feelings that they might encounter in other settings?

I think it comes down to seeing the final results. When you’re working out hard and consistently, it doesn’t take long to see the positive results of pushing yourself.  The changes may not be as dramatic as you’d like, but you generally feel better.  There is a direct connection between working out hard and feeling better.  We need to be more explicit about the connection between talking about race and serving students better.

When we talk about race, we take the time to examine our implicit biases.  We hold our thinking up to the light and can consciously change it.  If we never talk about our unconscious beliefs, we miss that opportunity.  We also can identify and work to fix the systemic racism that exists around us. The bottom line is that people, particularly students, are better served when we take the time to get uncomfortable and talk about race.  There is a direct connection between talking about race and making the world a better place for children.  It may not be as dramatic as we want, but nothing can change without it happening.

Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

In addition to creating this connection, we need a coach.  Teams need someone who will push them to become uncomfortable.  This person has to be willing to hear us panting on the treadmill and still tell us to bump up our speed.  They have to see the long term goals of everyone in the room and be willing to take their dirty looks and heightened emotions as they push them further.

I wish the work to make our world more equitable was as simple as finding a fitness coach that is willing to make us comfortable.  It also takes courage, trust and faith, but I’d be thrilled if everyone would first commit to becoming uncomfortable in service to our children.

Elise Darwish is the CEO of Ensemble Learning. Continue the conversation with her at or reach out to learn more about partnering with Ensemble Learning to help your organization get uncomfortable in service of students.


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