Taking the Risk to Make a Difference

DSC_0747 (1)Recently I have been pondering risk, how I take risks and how I encourage my students to take risks. From presenting at upcoming conferences, trying new teaching methods different than how I’ve taught in the past, to opening my heart and taking emotional risks, I would have to say one small risk leads to another. We know this from our students. If we can encourage our students to take small risks, just outside their comfort zone, they are likely to experience that little “zing” of excitement and if they experience some success then perhaps risk again. I see my job as their teacher being one of encouraging them to take the small risks, praising them for taking the chance, praising them for working hard, coaching them on how to refine, revise the skill set, all of which will then lead to small or large successes and lead to more risk taking. We could call this the risk cycle, I’ll bet many a scholar has written on just how this works. I however am just a ponderer on the topic of risk.

I happen to be a pretty big risk taker, being impulsive, I usually jump without too much thought. When I reflect back on big risks in my life it usually isn’t until well after I have made a big commitment when I think “what have I done?” Now I’m not talking about my marriage, been thrilled the entire time, but when I made the commitment to complete my National Boards I was well along the process before I began to have second thoughts. It is my belief this is why I always feel like a new teacher. I archive my lesson plans each year, I have great intentions of going back and using them from year to year, but when I look at what I did last year, I realize these students are so different. They might need a similar plan, but their needs and strengths are different and thus I am always in experimenting (risk) mode, analyzing what teaching strategy, tactic, plan will reach this group of students best. Contrary to the new teacher my pockets are deeply lined with experience so if one approach doesn’t work, I have many tools and strategies from which to pull. I’m sure when you are teaching you are also calculating risk, do you go with the lesson that worked like a charm last year? Do you revise it? Or do you start with a new approach?

However,for years in my personal life and professional life I didn’t take any emotional risks. I prided myself on being a private person whose personal and professional lives were cleanly separated into lock tight compartments. What changed? My charmed life of only experiencing rich blessings was altered. Students and friends both lost their lives. These tragic experiences, I am glad to say, changed me. I realized by protecting myself emotionally and not being willing to take emotional risk I wasn’t making the difference I wanted to make. Yes, I was polite, friendly and taught as a good employee. But now I am more than polite, I cut people some serious slack, I’m loving, and I teach like my very life depends on it.

When I say I cut people some serious slack here is what I’m describing in my teaching. I used to praise good behavior, discipline poor behavior. Now I still praise good behavior, but when students misbehave I build relationships. I encourage them, I let students know I believe in them, I help them problem solve how to show the awesome student I know they are. I show I care about them, because I care about them. I provide choices, suggestions if they want them, and comparatively I rarely need to discipline.

When I state I was friendly and now I’m loving I again should probably explain. In the past I didn’t understand that when I reach out and give a compliment, tell someone I really appreciate them as a friend, or tell a student I’m so glad they attend our school, the risk is small. Before it always felt like a huge risk. I’ve learned that these small gestures and exposing my heart, being vulnerable and “letting people in” are really not so risky. Just small ways I can let them know I love them.

Lastly, when I state I teach like my life depends on it. I used to go to work, and do a good job. Now I know just doing a good job isn’t enough. My students need me to pour myself out, every ounce, every day. Like all of you I teach students who come to me for the highlight of their week! One week and their 45 minutes in my gym is the best part? I can’t afford to be off my game, they are counting on me to deliver an awesome product.

So my pondering on risk circles me back, as I take risk, experience small successes I become willing to take additional risks. We just started our Thanksgiving break, I let my students know I was going to miss them over break. I reminded them as they participate in activities over break like skiing and snowboarding to wear a helmet. I let them know that if they happened to get into a car with a family friend over break to quick run an errand and told “don’t worry about a seatbelt, we’re just going a short distance” that they could reply “Mrs. Burrows loves me so much, I better find the seatbelt and put it on, she asked me to stay safe.” Even as I write, I know there is still a long way to go learning to take emotional risks. So now I’ve opened myself up to many on this blog, exposed my heart while describing my own journey, (feels like a huge risk) my goal, make a difference. How are you taking risks in your life?

11 responses to “Taking the Risk to Make a Difference

  1. Hi Lynn, thanks for this post. It resonated big time with me because my life has been totally shaped by a near death experience that helped to change my perspective on taking risk.

    After my accident, I decided to make myself vulnerable by sharing more of my inner thoughts both personally and professionally. I would say that the accident helped me understand there is no difference between who we are as a person and who we are as an educator.

    I believe that good teaching starts with us, our mindset, and our ability to reflect on the good, the bad, and the ugly. I wrote a post yesterday about a mindfulness strategy that my wife shared with me. http://www.pyppewithandy.com/pyp-pe-blog/three-great-end-of-day-reflective-questions

    These are 3 questions we need to be asking ourselves continually:
    Who made a difference to you or helped you out today?
    Who did you make a difference to or help out today?
    Who did you burden today?

    As I said in the #physed summit keynote that I did a few weeks back, our pursuit of mastery in teaching is really our pursuit of mastery in life.

    Being an emotionally connected educator is essential and doing so begins with us. I promise that any teacher embarking on this type of practice will no doubt have a massive impact on the learning taking place with their students. Thanks Lynn!

  2. Great post. Thank you for taking the risk of sharing this. I also just go for things than think about how hard it really is later. This year in my school we implemented the new 3 R’s. Relevance, Rigor and Relationships. That last one is so important and you spoke about it very well in this piece. I try to go into the cafeteria at least once or twice during the day to see and joke with students in a setting other than class further strengthening those relationships, letting them know they’re loved by the people that teach them everyday. Great TED talk about relationships. “Every Kid Needs A Champion” by Rita Pierson.

    • I’ve seen this TED talk and agree it is a must watch. Relationship building continues to feel like a risk, but not as great as missing out on building a relationship!

  3. Lynn- Love the post from both a personal and professional level. We are in a “risky business”! Promoting and building the class environment where there are strong connections between students and I high level of trust in the classroom community is essential. The way we teach and what we teach can also determine kids level of risk taking. From a Middle School teachers perspective there are so many directions you can go with this topic. Personal growth, positive leadership, healthy risk taking, etc.. Thanks again for your ideas on risk taking.

  4. Thanks for sharing this! After completing the National Board process and now having received scores which were way below passing…I am feeling extremely cheated and defeated. This holiday season finds me really looking deep into myself and my profession!

    Sent from my iPhone


    • Judi,
      I understand defeat. I didn’t really talk about how defeat affects me in this blog entry. But I totally understand being deflated. When I have experienced failure my mind keeps replaying the re-do. I play out the perfect scenario of what I would change and everything I would do differenty. Those thoughts compel me to keep going until I get it right, otherwise I struggle to release those thoughts of what I would do given a second chance, they just keep spinning through my brain.
      The thing about National Boards is what you are doing is perhaps very different that what you presented. Remember, you know your daily teaching practices and pedagogy. Writing about how you demonstrate all those great things in your practices is much more difficult than actually doing it! I hope you are planning on re-submitting. Now that you know the process, know the expectations, you have also probably reflected on your videos and much of what you wrote. All part of the learning process. I hear the sadness in your written words but want to encourage you to keep reaching for the goal. The offer still stands, I am willing to help you with any step of the process. Did you have a PE mentor last year?

  5. As a teacher of HPE, we continually ask our children to take risks. Yet in real life I’m the polar opposite. It’s the way I am and although I don’t mind the odd calculated risk or two I tend to be very measured.

    I have a very firm belief that through all my years of teaching and leading camps children need to learn a few things as quickly as possible.
    1) Resilience- going through difficult situations and growing.
    2) Positive self worth- everyone has a role to play and as an individual you need to believe that if you want to do something you can. Also, do not letting others judge you.
    3) Passion – if you are in a career for the title or money you have made a poor choice. Being passionate means you care- means you want to make a difference.

    Finally, a lecturer once said to me at an outdoor camp……’when you become a teacher use your life experiences to guide your kids- basically teach your children how to act when things don’t go their way. This will allow them to go thru difficulties, make mistakes and learn from them. Above all this also teachers them to be good people.

    Thanks for sharing your views.

  6. Wow, Lynn! Thanks for sharing a glimpse into your heart. I echo your sentiments about teaching with passion and conviction and giving your very, very best. I love how your transparency into what you do and who you are centers around relationships. We are relational beings! It is in our very DNA. We all long to be nurtured, accepted and loved. So to you it might seem like a risk, but I see it as you doing what you were put on this earth to do – Make A Difference! 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks Aaron and Mike, like I said in article,still have a long way to go regarding being open emotionally/relationship . However,learning it’s so worth the risk!

  7. Lynn,
    Thank you for sharing. I think being vulnerable in teaching is a huge asset to our students/colleagues, etc. Out of the blue, one day 5 years ago, I had a seizure and come to find out a brain tumor. Although benign, it rocked my world – looking back, it has changed how I approach my teaching and my attitude on life – how can that not? I used to compartmentalize my life – teaching and my personal life – how can you when we teach such an important subject that involves our physicality and emotional well-being? And, if we are passionate,taking risks emotionally, as tough as it is sometimes, is so powerful in the lives of our students. Our experiences shape us – we should share our experiences with our students – let them in. I appreciate your thoughts and reminder of how taking risks is worth it in our lives! Happy Thanksgiving!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s