Last week I wrote about granting yourself permission to stop, in order to maintain balance in your life as you work towards our students’ success. I was inspired by a few conversations with teachers this week and once again want to plead with you to grant yourselves permission, this time for something else. We strive to practice what we preach with our students but many times in our efforts to always be our best for our kids we ask them to do something that we omit from our regular practice.
This year as we coached our students through the SMART Goal process in the Middle School we asked them to set a risk-taking goal. We want to see all of our students stepping out of their comfort zones to try new things, meet new people, and expand their horizons. It is an essential part of learning and growing, something that applies to not only students but everyone. As educators we often learn new strategies, read great articles, share ideas, and evolve our skill set. However, something that is hard for everyone to do, especially teachers with an adolescent audience, is to take risks.
I was speaking with a teacher recently who told me about a lesson she had planned and executed that included a few new tools and ideas, it sounded fantastic. There was differentiation, wonderful use of technology, group work, and an opportunity for reflection. As the teacher explained, this lesson also had one more element, ”it was a disaster!” The feeling of excitement about having a great lesson planned was stolen away from her because the lesson didn’t go as she had envisioned. The tech didn’t work correctly when the kids accessed it and the downward spiral that followed totally took the wind out of her sails. She had taken a risk and tried some new things with this lesson but didn’t get the result she was hoping to achieve. Her feeling of despair was completely reasonable, after all the lesson (in her mind) was a disaster and she could’ve done better.
My first reaction to this story, however, was completely the opposite of how this teacher was feeling, I was excited! Taking risks as a teacher is hard to do. To put ourselves in front of our students and risk something going wrong is a scary feeling, sometimes difficult to overcome. Yet it is those risks, those attempts at something new, that really pushes our educational practice forward. We could lean back and teach the same lesson year after year because we know it “works”, but what if we could do something better?
Just as it is important to achieve balance by granting ourselves permission to stop, it is also important to open ourselves to the idea of taking risks by granting ourselves permission to fail. Having a growth mindset and “failing forward” is something we want our kids to do, so why shouldn’t we be doing it too?
Have a look at your next unit(s) and think about some lessons that could be enhanced by a little risk-taking. To be sure, just as with our kids, we don’t need to be taking risks every single day or every lesson. Perhaps a fair goal would be to take a risk and try something new every unit or maybe every couple weeks. Some will be hits and others will be disasters but the end result will be long term gains for your students!
Risks and rewards make the world go around. My wife and I took a risk 36 years ago. We were not the richest people in the world, heck not even in our poor neighborhood, but we took a risk and decided to have a child and now he is teaching the world how to be better. Lucky for all we took the risk. That’s, $.02.