Risk taking = great teaching?

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Photo Credit: marenbruun via Compfight cc

I hope that when my own two little boys are in school that they will be fortunate enough to be taught by teachers who are risk takers.  I firmly believe that as professionals, it is essential that we take risks in our pedagogical approach and practice.  As I am fortunate enough to work with many talented professionals in many schools, one thing I believe is that all truly great teachers take risks.

I had an interesting conversation with a colleague and friend at Convention on Friday.  This colleague has a great interest in teaching through inquiry.  She was quick to say, however, in describing the current inquiry project that she is doing with a colleague, sometimes there were moments that were less than perfect.  In those moments, students didn’t always achieve what she hoped they would, the technology piece wasn’t always succesful, the end result was not always what they had hoped.  The conversation, incredibly brief as they tend to be as you pass through a sea of colleagues, ended on an interesting note, one that sparked the thought of this post today.  Taking risks is an essential part of what makes a great teacher; changing what is working to create and engage and attempt new things, knowing that it is in the best interest of the students and that we are dynamic in our profession, this is what makes teachers truly great.

After this conversation, I reflected on all the risks I see around me, especially as we try to engage students and change our practice through the integration of technology.  Technology itself continues to be a risk, especially at this exact moment in the context we are in right now.  Policies are being implemented and people are experimenting but in reality, there is no firm guide, no manual to support us as we try to learn and embrace new styles of teaching.  From learning what best practice with technology even means, to understanding the changes in our approach, to the very issues around infrastructure and design, 21st century teaching to me involves a significant need for self awareness, the need for risk taking and the potential for failure.  As I work with technology teams at the schools I support I am amazed by the ability of those teachers to jump in head first and embrace this risk.

Ironically, as I was considering this post, Mindshift’s article on Jumping Into the 21st Century: One Teacher’s Account appeared in my facebook feed.  This led me to Shelley Wright’s post on the Powerful Learning Practice website, entitled “The Courage to Change“.  I’ve enjoyed Shelley’s posts before on her blog Wright’s Room (I especially enjoyed her recent post, Sometimes It’s Hard).  In her post “The Courage to Change”, Shelley delves into what it means to transform teaching practice and take risks in doing so.  She identifies the changes that she made to transform her classroom into a 21st century classroom, which she defines as creating a “collaborative learning network” amongst her students.   This means that beyond her role of traditional teacher, she is now a facilitator as the students learn themselves through research, inquiry, and instruction for the other members of the network.  She talks about her move to the paperless classroom (something I’ve always strived to do!) but there is one quote that really hit home.  Shelley explains that, “sometimes when we’re changing, success can look like failure“.  She reminds us too that the hard work is worth it once you attain that end point but that teaching is a process.  Learning is a process.  It is essential that we take risks, make mistakes, and get past the failures to get to where we want to go.

In a much less eloquent way, after my discussion with my friend, we agreed that, “it takes a whole lot of risks and failure to get to awesome”.

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