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?