In preparation for my school’s upcoming professional development next week I have been assigned quite a few articles about risk taking in the classroom. As I have poured over the articles I have read about teachers modeling risk taking through their own actions. I did this last year with my students as I went through the proposal process of my book with the publisher. I was honest with them during this journey, from my excitement to my fear, to my utter disappointment; I had to hold back the tears when I told them I had been rejected. Their reaction through out this process was extremely supportive and in the end they were sad with me but encouraged me to try again. Without realizing it I was modeling my own risk taking.
Another imperative element of encouraging risk taking in our students ideas, and thinking, is creating an environment in which they feel secure. I listened to a TED talk recently that explored the importance of failure. There is a section of Google that is all about “shooting the moon”. They are encouraged to think of outlandish ideas and projects and then try as hard as possible to destroy the project and to watch it fail. From these endeavors the Google Glasses failed, and the Google Self Driving Car has survived. The head of this department gives bonuses to those who have failed, pays a higher salary, and gives constant praise to the inventors. He says that without these supports in place no one would be creative. If success is all that drives you then failure deters you. To think with unabashed creativity one cannot worry about failure but instead re-frame and embrace the idea entirely.
In my classroom I start the year with two days of getting to know my students and explaining the mindset for my class. It is not just a place for me to dispense knowledge. This is a place for us to grow on our faith journey. It is a place where I want each student to feel open and honest, able to share any ideas. Each student writes a daily journal about his/her personal life and how it pertains to what I am teaching that day. There are group projects almost daily, each class begins with a student prayer, and we have monthly meditations. The best comments I have received on my evaluations from the students is how they feel they can share in my class, but more importantly how they feel listened to, and that their view counts for something.
Students will take more risks if risk taking is modeled by someone who they trust. They will also take more risks in a place where they feel accepted and encouraged to be creative and open. I pray that my new students this year will feel this way and take those risks. Risk taking can change a person’s life giving him the confidence to believe he can change the world. Those are the types of students we need to help our world.