Monday, November 24, 2014

Risk-Taking Teaching

        I am not a risk taker in most areas. Forget skydiving, mountain climbing, or anything involving eating strange foods. Serve me up traditional, please. People who can do some of these things amaze me. Just like some teachers I know who put it on the line in the classroom. They climb outside their comfort zones and may dress up as a book character, talk in funny accents to match the characters, act out scenes, employ new ideas that may not work, or ask students for input  The more I've seen them, the more convinced I am that teachers who are risk-takers engage students more deeply in the learning process.
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        So what are risks to take in the classroom? One common thread I've seen is that teachers who go outside the lines aren't afraid to fail and they encourage their students to do the same--fail. Not the class but the idea. Maybe the idea falls flat, but they try. When asked how he felt about being the all-time leader in throwing interceptions, Brett Favre responded that he felt okay about it. "It shows I was trying." Favre is a three-time MVP winner who led the legendary Green Bay Packers to a Super Bowl win. Most in the sports field regard him as one of the best quarterbacks of the game. Favre  was  risk-taker. Sometimes those chances paid off, sometimes they didn't. He didn't view interceptions as failures; instead he looked at them as positives--he was trying.
       What if we took that attitude when students want to try something new outside our "box" of what school should be? What if we shared failures with students and showed our human side? What if we gave our students permission for an idea not to work? What would our classrooms look like?
        Dr. Alice Dregger, Lyman Briggs School at Michigan State University, believes there are several ways to take risks in the classroom. A couple of them are to try new teaching approaches and assess "on time." Trust their opinions and implement their ideas when possible. My students complete unit reflections where they evaluate their learning. What worked and what didn't? What ideas do they have to make it a stronger learning experience? Some of the best ideas I've gotten to strengthen what I teach and how I teach it has come from students. 
        Another point Dr. Dregger makes is that risk taking for teachers involves trusting students with their learning and being willing to learn from them. No one knows everything, although some of my students think they do. After researching this topic of risk taking, I realize I need to change. Instead of getting mildly irritated with these students who "know it all," why not allow them to teach the rest of the class? I have smart kids. They may not know Shakespeare but they are smart in other things. Why not make connections so they can teach me? I have a student who's terrific with cars. He works for a local dealership in the lube department. When something we read didn't make sense to us because of the reference, he clarified by explaining what was happening. It was a mechanical reference, one I knew nothing about then. Now, I'm educated because of this student.
        Maybe it's time we loosened up in the classroom and invited ourselves and our students to take more risks. Failure is a part of the learning process. Just ask Thomas Edison. Without failure, he would have never invented all that he did. It's something I need to learn to do more consistently.
        Being a teacher is an ever-evolving profession. Although I may never launch myself from an airplane, I know I will start to take more risks in the classroom. I've always been a fan of Brett Favre. Maybe interceptions aren't bad after all.

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