What do we really mean by risk taking in the classroom?

It’s important for students to learn risk taking skills. But how do schools do that without taking some big risks themselves?

Let’s face it. We are of two minds when it comes to how we feel about kids and risk taking. We know that the teenage brain is wired to ignore consequences and to take risks without any adult encouragement, so parents spend a lot of time trying to keep their kids from doing stupid things like drinking and driving or having unprotected sex.

In the classroom, however, risk taking is often viewed as a good thing. We educators tend to praise and encourage students to take gambles and learn from their mistakes. At least, that’s what we say.

This idea can raise a few hackles and more than a few questions. What characterizes a “good risk?” How can we create a culture of risk taking in our classrooms? And what might we currently be doing that discourages risk taking in our students?

Good risk = potential growth

By definition, all risks have potential negative outcomes and obviously, there is plenty of risky behavior that we don’t want to encourage children to take. In a sense, the decision to take any risk involves a cost-benefit analysis. The risk taking I encourage in my students generally involves some potential for growth. In some cases, this growth is social.

Not too long ago, I had a student who was very talented, but he needed to step back and give his teammates a little more control over their shared project. This was incredibly difficult this for student, and risky because he had to trust in the quality of his teammates’ work if the project was to be successful. The end result was substantial growth in his collaboration skills. Other types of growth are more traditionally academic.

Next page: The right risks for the right students

Want to share a great resource? Let us know at submissions@eschoolmedia.com.