Student Well-Being Opinion

Establish a Safe Place for Risk Taking

By Starr Sackstein — September 06, 2015 2 min read
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Exceptional learning can’t happen if we play it safe all the time, so as educators we must create environments that encourage and support risk taking while embracing the potential for mistakes.

By the time students become teenagers, they don’t want to look stupid in front of their friends; they even fear being wrong because of the negative consequences that may have befallen them in the past.

In order to rebrand learning, we must help all students understand that progress can only happen by taking risks and with that comes potential error and maybe even failure. But this doesn’t have to be a bad thing, mistakes are actually important steps to figuring out better solutions.

So what happens when we’re incorrect?

Nothing really, we create new opportunities to try out other problem solving techniques and generate other solutions. Without those mistakes or failures the better answers may never come.

I read somewhere not too long ago that when a room is quiet because no one wants to take a risk, why not try asking kids to share their best wrong answers. We can de-stigmatize the idea of being wrong by making it a part of how we become right.

So how do we create spaces that embrace these kinds of risks?

Try this:

  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes to model what happens after you do. Students need to see what happens and not be afraid.
  • Admit when you don’t know something and turn it into a classroom activity to figure it out together. Kids also need to see that it’s okay to not know and even more importantly, they need to know how to find answers when they don’t have them. This is a much more valuable skill than merely knowing.
  • Applaud attempts at learning that are unsuccessful and continue to encourage students to take risks.
  • Make student questioning a big part of the environment, letting their curiosity lead the learning regardless of not knowing where the line of questioning may end up.
  • If possible, create a system for calling on students that doesn’t include hand raising all of the time, so that only a few people volunteer.
  • Use Twitter as a backchannel so that all students can participate, even if they are reticent.
  • Implement a fair amount of wait time to include as many students as possible.
  • Give students extra time to write down answers first before participating in a discussion. Consider even a pair share where partners share out the information after the discussion.
  • Have a “parking lot” or questions box that anonymously allows students to drop questions or concerns off at the end of class to be addressed later.
  • Make it clear that no one is so to snicker or make fun of students who make mistakes, but rather have a protocol for adding onto another person’s ideas.
  • Don’t attach grades to learning. This can shut a student down quickly.

These ideas are just some starters. Kids need to understand that innovation can only happen when we move away from what has already been learned and done and with some creativity and courage, we make really make meaningful change together.

How do you help students take risks in your spaces? Please share

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