Updated: Jul 15, 2021
Taking Risks, being brave, and stepping out of our comfort zone is one of our favorite topics. Sometimes when things are scary, we tend to avoid them, and our students do too. It’s hard to know in the moment, but some risks are definitely worth it. Taking risks and showing bravery should be a norm in our classrooms. Without us modeling these practices, students will not do it. There is a groove we tend to get into as teachers. Lessons are predictable, we feel completely relaxed, and we teach on autopilot. While in some ways this is comforting, we slowly start to feel the creep of dissatisfaction and even boredom. There's our sign that it’s time to embrace a little change.
Teachers need to lead by example, pushing through our personal discomfort and the unknown. Without modeling, students will not take risks. So, what does this look like for teachers? Sometimes it looks like room transformations. This is where content is delivered in a new, engaging way (what is taught doesn’t change, but the how it’s taught does). It can also look like encouraging inquiry in classroom discussions. Respond to questions and wonderings with “I’m not sure. Let’s figure that out together.” Believe it or not, educators don’t have to be experts in all areas. We also need to be learners and model what curiosity and problem solving look like. Want to encourage an environment of growth mindset? Commit to owning our academic mistakes and challenge students to catch them. We had a colleague that would bring in donuts after her class collectively caught 50 of her mathematical mistakes. What an impactful way to show kids there is value in mistakes and learning from them.
It's time we get creative with questioning and encourage out of the box thinking. When responses aren’t predictable, and teachers are willing to let students lead the conversation, we are modeling bravery, as well as our belief in each student. Asking those same questions that have a “right” or “wrong” answer, takes the pressure off us, and the students. When asking the higher depth of knowledge questions, we have to be comfortable with silence and wait time. Those crickets can feel uncomfortable for teachers. There is a need to fill the space, but stop and resist the urge to jump in too soon. Let’s not take the cognitive demand away from our students, because of our discomfort. They can do it. This is where the learning happens for our students.
Other strategies we can use to support bravery in academic risks are changing our language. Rather than asking “who has questions,” try “what are your questions?” This sends the message that questions are expected and wanted. Our students worry about raising their hand and looking like the weak or “unsmart” one in the class. We can celebrate our students when they are in “the pit” (Stuck; struggling, and unsure of next steps). Again, it comes across as an expectation to work through content. When a student thinks aloud and says, “Wait. I have a different answer. I need a minute to look at my work and figure it out.” Honor and praise that time. Let's communicate with our students that growing means there are times when our bodies feel butterflies, get sweaty, or minds go blank. This is a sign that the work is starting to feel hard, but we are in it together. We are stronger and braver when we support each other as learners.
So teachers, let’s focus on being more vulnerable and learning with our students. Let’s create an expectation for bravery and risks. Let’s push ourselves. Our work with risk taking is WORTH it. Our students deserve it and so do we.