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On Risk-Taking

Т  Т  Т Educators who take risks in their classrooms stand a better chance of engaging students than those who stick to the textbook or a pre-packed curriculum. Educator risk taking means inventing assignments and projects that allow students to apply skills in non-traditional ways. There are no worksheets to fill out. There is no recipe students must all follow verbatim in order to be deemed successful. Instead, there are options. Students choose the medium (short film, podcast, interpretive dance, writing and performing a song or sketch for the class, etc;) to complete a given task and provided they apply Common Core content-area skills, the educator is doing their job and the students have a chance to incorporate creativity as much as literacy. Allow students to propose ideas to you. Incorporate what students are already interested in into your course content. Here’s an example: Show PBS’s Stonewall Uprising about the history of LGBTQ rights in our country and have the students discuss the film while it’s being shown via Twitter or another social media platform. Have students hashtag their comments and then review as a class later and continue the dialogue. That’s a risk. And that’s a class that will be stimulated to discuss the ideas in the film during and after the viewing with a fervor that no academic article could rouse. Try the same thing with a field trip.

Т  Т  Т Taking risks is about changing up what you do to fit the students you have in front of you, and not the students you want or wish you were teaching. Risk-taking means changing what you do to fit the current crop of young people you have today. Risk-taking means asking the students after each lesson if your work together added value to their life. If it did, then keep the lesson and use it again. If it didn’t, change it for next year or drop it completely and come up with something new. Show the students your mistakes, revel in them, and then show them how you have the growth mindset and can bounce back from a setback.

Т  Т  Т Educators who take risks create as much as they teach and aren’t afraid to buck the opposite of risk taking: the educational status quo. This is a status quo that has barely changed since the early days of American schooling: sit in a desk, sit up straight, be quite, listen to the teacher read from the chalkboard or Smartboard, take notes, study, and then regurgitate information onto a test. That’s not engaging and it definitely isn’t risk-taking. Risk-taking can be messy at first, but learning is messy and life is messy too. Things don’t fit neatly into an edu-box. We clean our teaching up and improve as best we can as class community. Then we move forward and try it all over again. So, experiment and see how you can change education in your small corner of the world for the better.

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