Updated: Aug 21, 2021
According to the urban dictionary, chicken out means to “decide at the last moment not to do something you said you would do, because you are afraid.” . When I first started raising chickens a few weeks ago, I started to understand exactly where this term originated. Chickens are very skittish and afraid. Considering they do not have a whole lot of natural defenses from a host of predators, that is probably a good thing. However, I recently learned something about chickens that is giving this phrase a little different twist and is the reason I might be willing to chicken out.
Venturing into raising backyard chickens has been more of a leap of faith than anything else. While it might have been prudent to do a little more research, we’ve basically been learning as we go. So as our chickens grew we knew they needed a coop. After talking with neighbors and a few searches on Pinterest we decided we could use one of our horse stalls. We spent several weekends building a coop and a pen. Finally, it was ready and we moved our quickly growing chicks into their new home. We have some coyotes in the neighborhood so we were a little worried about whether or not we protected them enough. The next morning, I headed out to the barn to see how they made it through the night.
What I found shocked and surprised me!
When I opened the barn doors, the chickens were walking around the middle of the barn. I chastised myself thinking I had somehow left the latch open but quickly realized that the stall door and the screen door to the coop were both latched. After some hunting, we found all eight chickens. One was even in another stall perched on top of our lawn mower. We had never seen them fly and really didn’t know how they got out. We put them back, but multiple times during the day we found them wandering around the yard again. Finally, we set up camp and watched. Sure enough as soon as we put them in their coop, one brave chicken would jump up to a watering trough that was mounted on the wall and then squeeze through the bars of the horse stall. It would then fly down to the ground. Clucking seemed to signal to the other chickens to join her and one by one they each stuck their necks out a little farther and pretty soon found their way out. (Click here to see the Chicken Out in time lapse)
So why am I chickening out?
After watching chicken behavior for several days, I think they are much more inquisitive, curious and brave than we give them credit. Remember they have little to no defenses and can barely fly and yet one by one these chickens explored their surroundings and looked for any opening where they could get out and expand their wings. It usually takes one brave leader to make the first leap, but one by one, they muster up their own courage and move into unknown territory. I feel like this really connects with what I am trying to do with my own learning and professional growth. Recently I stuck my neck out and joined an online learning group, the Innovative Teaching Academy. I had very little idea about what it was or where it was going, but I knew I didn’t want to stay where I was, I wanted out of the coop. You can probably say I heard them cackling outside as I kept getting tweets and e-mails from some of its leaders who I had been following. So, I stuck my neck out, looked around and ‘chickened out’. As a result, I found myself with other brave chickens who are leading the way in some rather uncharted territory. There are so many people out there frustrated with the chicken coop or the current way of doing education and they are sticking their necks out trying to find a better way.
So, if you ask me, it’s not a bad thing to chicken out. Fear and anxiety are our natural instincts to protect ourselves. We need to remind ourselves and our students that when we feel this way it’s ok. Two of Costa & Kallick’s (2009) Habits of Mind really come into play here: remaining open to continuous learning and taking responsible risks. It is ok to ‘chicken out,’ because what that really means is not to give up because you are afraid, but to keep poking around, sticking our necks out and remaining open and curious to new learning. And when we are ready, whether we are the leader or the follower, taking a responsible risk to go ahead and ‘chicken out’.
I’m ready to ‘chicken out’ are you? I’ll keep clucking (or tweeting) at you from the other side of the coop until you do!
Want to see more chickens in action. Check out a photo shoot done by my 13 year old daughter with an iPhone. Love how she EXPLORES her talents!