As educators, we’ve all done it. We’ve probably said it and even perhaps written it on report cards. “So-and-so needs to take more risks.”  Over the last few weeks, I’ve been contemplating what it means to take risks and how past experiences may form our propensity for future risk taking. In this post, I invite you to join me on a little journey. 

I’ll admit it. I’ve often been the one who makes very calculated decisions when it comes to risks. More and more as an adult, I’ve learned to be a little more adventurous in “safer spaces” but I ultimately need to first find that space to hold some safety. 

In the work that I have had the opportunity to do with educators, many have put up their hands to attend a session and are possibly ready to take some time to reflect on their own practices. The process is guided and while participants are often thrown into a place where they have to quickly create, many feel safe enough to consider and try new ideas because the scaffolding has been put in place to get to them to that point. They move from a place of being unsure of what the day may hold to quickly being excited about the potential of an idea. With this in mind, I’ve been thinking about my own learning and the learning that I have the opportunity to facilitate in my classroom with students. 

As I mentioned before, I’ve always been calculated in taking risks. In school, I remember equating success with receiving high marks. High marks on the last couple of pages of the report card, not necessarily the learning skills, which I was usually able to quietly meet expectations. I think that because I knew the game of school, the learning skills were seen as perhaps the icing on the cake, while the real substance was to be found in the marks received in subject areas. These were the things that were going to help me get to my ultimate goal. I always equated the better your marks, the better your options. This thinking kept me in a space where I focused on making sure that I continued to do what I knew worked. I learned really well to safely play the game of school but at what cost?

I say all this to come back to our students. We want them to be creative risk takers but how do we do this when perhaps what is perceived to be valued is a letter grade at the end of a few months of learning about a specific subject? How do we help students to value process over product and to realize that failure is a part of the learning process? How do we help them to see that perhaps the detriment might be not in the failure itself but in perhaps failing and not learning from it or being so afraid to try that there is no room to fail? We want students to be risk takers and of course there is probably some calculation to that risk but how do we create a system that supports students in truly understand what matters most? How do we create a shift?

Clearly I don’t have all of the answers to this and I know that this isn’t the work solely of a group of educators and perhaps speaks to a larger shift in education. I wonder what changes could be made if we were to create learning environments where there are scaffolds and supports to ensure that students can safely take risks, fail, learn, try again, take even greater risks, fail or succeed and take risks again?  I know this is already being done especially in elementary but imagine if there could also be a shift in secondary also. Where an exam or test mark isn’t the only thing that speaks to the success of a student. Would we have more risk takers who are excited about new challenges they will face in an uncertain future? I’m back in the classroom in September and I have learned so much about the value of a scaffolded process and the fact that it might look different for each student. I’m looking forward to using this process to helping them develop a greater ability to take some big risks to try something new.


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