Taking a Risk

“Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

I had a teacher approach me the other day. He has been teaching for about 20 years. His geography units are consistent (aside from some moving boundaries), and he uses the same materials every year. The content is taught, and the students can do well on the unit exams. The students and the teacher are both comfortable. Maybe too comfortable.

But something changed. He told me that he wanted to try something new. After watching my students put together their 20% Time projects, he told me that he wanted to engage students rather than keep them comfortable. I was excited, and, to be honest, a little surprised. I’m the kind of teacher who has to try new things. Partially, I try them to inspire and engage students, but a bit of me just tries things to see if I can pull them off. It gets me all fired up!

My colleague and I designed a unit around choice. Article choice, video choice and product choice. I warned him…YOU MUST GIVE UP SOME CONTROL AND THAT’S A RISK.

That’s where I think we, as teachers, get stuck. Giving up control is hard. Taking a risk is hard. In the end, though, when students have more control of their learning, it turns out to not be such a risk. AJ Juliani talks about it in his post 10 Risks Every Teacher Should Take With Their Class.

The reward of risks is the opportunity to watch students do things that they didn’t think they could do. What happened in my colleague’s classroom? Energized students. Students teaching other students. A massive decrease in complaints about boredom or monotony. Choice put the onus on the students to engage.

Taking a risk is not easy, so I always encourage colleagues to start small. What is one risk that you can take in the next week that will take the responsibility off of you and encourage your own students to figure it out for themselves? Let’s stop giving the answers and give students the opportunity to find the answers and learn how to learn.

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