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Promoting Online Risk-Taking

Personal Risk-Taking  

I wouldn’t say I’m a big risk taker in life or someone that loves a thrill. I’ve always been a cautious person weighing and taking in a situation before acting.  I went skiing for the first time a couple years ago and I was petrified. I love traveling and always wanted to study abroad but a part of me always somewhat misses the comfort of home. I started a doctoral program recently but also questioned whether that was right at this point in my life with young toddlers and a new job. I started a Voxer group in my district but also worried about putting another activity on people’s plates in such an overwhelming time. 

Despite the discomfort, a part of me also loves risk-taking and pushing my boundaries. I did all of the things I listed above enthusiastically. We went skiing again this year. We continue to travel as much as possible to learn new cultures and places. I studied abroad in Greece for a winter semester. I’m in the middle of my doctoral program and the Voxer group has been an amazing space of reflection and learning. I’m never really okay with the status quo when it comes to my own learning or trying out something new. Pictures of some of these experiences are below:

I originally started thinking about risk-taking after many conversations with teachers about how this online environment has really inhibited students. They shut their videos off on Zoom/Google Meets, find it difficult to collaborate with each other, and at times, find it difficult to collaborate with their teacher. After reading and reflecting on the topic, one article called “Creating a Classroom Full of Risk Takers” highlighted that students take risks for two reasons:

  1. They are in an environment that made them feel comfortable in order to take the risk.
  2. The classroom was challenging enough that they had to take risks.

I realized that in all of my risk taking, it was the same for me. I was in an environment that I felt comfortable and supported. I was also usually challenged or encouraged by someone else to take the risk to begin with.

I also thought about my own kids and how they change as they grow. I have watched Benjamin become more cautious with age which is a good thing (in fear of danger) and because of people’s feelings/responses, but I do wish their lack of inhibition to try new things and share how they feel would never go away. My daughter, Elizabeth, still sings at the top of her lungs in front of anyone and has the confidence to take risks everyday. I think about how this declines as we get older. Why is this? Self consciousness about what others say and being shut down by others are definitely two reasons. In some ways, risk-taking declines for our own growth and preservation, but in other ways, I hope that my kids grow in an environment feeling enough comfort and confidence with themselves that they dive into healthy risk-taking with a positive mindset.

It led me to think about how we take these ideas and make a classroom full of risk-takers online, a task even more difficult than in the classroom. 

Promoting an Environment of Risk-Takers Online

The article shared the following ideas for teachers to create a classroom or a school full of risk-takers: celebrating perseverance, sharing your mistakes, allowing retakes, discovering the power of “yet”,and failure Fridays. These ideas really resonated with me, particularly within the space of online learning. I have taken these ideas and added others to share how we are promoting risk-taking online. I also added the perspective of my young children, Ben and Elizabeth, and how I TRY to use all of these ideas as a parent.

Celebrating perseverance BIG and SMALL by doing things such as targeted, individualized feedback, sending hand written notes home, sending certificates home, administrator/teacher positive phone calls, celebrating when students turn their camera on, using student work as models, and using students as mentors for others. I try to celebrate all of my own kids’ accomplishments so that they will continue to try. They still want me to notice everything they do like how fast of a runner they are or how well they colored a picture and I try to give as much positive reinforcement as I can. The one way my daughter will ALWAYS listen to me is by asking my son to model the positive behavior I want to see her do. He loves being the model for her.

Sharing Mistakes and failures by admitting when a decision or lesson doesn’t go well, asking for student input on instruction, showing students your own work that has challenged you, sharing stories about how you made mistakes or failed, and teaching about others who failed forward. Whenever my kids become frustrated doing a task, which is often (they’re 2 and 3), I try to reiterate to them that by making mistakes, we are learning. I have to guide them through not giving up, although with most things, they are desperate to learn even if it’s hard. My son just learned to ride a bike. He fell off and hurt himself one time while learning, and it took me a while to coach him to get back on. We all need to get back on the bike and have someone there to encourage that!

Allowing Retakes by forcing students to utilize feedback before receiving grades, correcting quizzes or tests, working with other students to redo assignments, or having peers teach content to others. I couldn’t imagine if I didn’t allow my kids to redo things! Ben doesn’t usually start at the top of his letters to write them correctly. He has a wipe and erase book to teach him for a reason! Of course, he’s three but learning new things always has a curve and takes time. I can’t imagine if I shut him down for doing something incorrectly. I know it’s different for older kids because they have study skills/habits that younger kids don’t have but is it that different?

Discovering the Power of “Yet” by differentiating assignments based on interest and also by level of understanding, allowing some students to spend more time on assignments while others move on, 1:1 meetings or small meetings with students, using flipped classroom structures, and focusing on growth and feedback rather than grades.Young kids are relentless about not giving up and I admire that so much. My kids will not let me touch anything until they do it themselves and do it correctly. “I DO” is one of the most common phrases heard in my house. Letting them “do” takes time…sometimes more time than I want to give. I can now hear them talking themselves through a difficult task. My son actually used to repeat, “I think I can…” from the book The Little Engine That Could and now he repeats “It’s okay if I don’t get it right away. I’ll get it.” This is something I hope never disappears for them. I see students lose this mindset as they get older and its disheartening. Especially in the remote learning environment, this growth mindset needs to be reinforced and taught to students.

An example of an online differentiated lesson I saw in a recent Professional Development session by Dr. Nancy Sulla .

Caring for Students and Staff like Family by protecting each other, knowing each other stories, communicating often, not embarrassing anyone, knowing their needs as people, actively listening to them, working as a team, and engaging students/parents with projects or lessons not necessarily connected to content like the ideas below. As a parent, I always want teachers or administrators to treat children as they do their own kids. You feel the discomfort, pain, and joy of your own children. I want to do the same for the kids at school.

Some ideas for students to connect with them personally

Encouraging Peer Collaboration by ceating spaces for students to work together and learn from each other, using online breakout rooms, online peer tutoring, partner/group asessements, older students preseting younger students with information they learned, or older students as writing partners editing the work of younger studnets. My kids LOVE learning from older kids and playing with peers. They learn from each other and connect in ways that I can’t with them. In our middle school, we just hosted a live show where AP chemistry students presented information and experiments to our 4th grade, 5th grade, and middle schoolers. All groups learned from the experience and it was amazing to watch.

Engaging in dialogue with peers about your dreams and fears by writing down and sharing what could go wrong if you take the risk, what could work out if you take the risk, asking others about unintended consequences, speaking to others you feel comfortable with about moving forward, and practicing goal writing. I recently asked teachers their goals/dreams for when we return to school. Some mentioned making learning more focused on real world scnearios; others spoke of a flipped classroom and taking more field trips with the students. Another mentioned using digital platforms to connect with other classrooms in the country. When my kids are scared of something, like my son who is scared to ride his bike down a hill close to my house, we talk through it together and everyday, he becomes a bit more comfortable. Talking about goals and fears with trusted peers can siginificantly change your mindset in taking a risk.

A Challenging Online Classroom 

Secondly, we need to create learning spaces that challenge people to take risks. If people feel complacent that they know everything and are essentially done learning, there are no risks to take. Educators, George Couros and Tom Murray address some of this in the podcast below.

They speak about the use of low level technology in this environment and how we innocently encourage this constantly.  Thomas Murray shared that just because people are using technology doesn’t mean we’re teaching students better, even if they’re fully engaged. “Technology can be transformational only if we use it in a transformational way” according to George Couros and I couldn’t agree more. I think of my kids watching other kids opening toys on Youtube. They’re fully engaged. Is it deepening their learning? NO.

In their podcast, George Couros and Tom Murray discuss the SAMR model; the R in the model stands for “redefining” meaning our lessons with technology must be redefined by creating tasks that we couldn’t have created WITHOUT the technology. Instead of substituting pen/paper (S in SAMR), the model pushes technology users to move beyond just using a computer as a replacement for what we always did.

Technology can help us utilize knowledge for decision making, problem solving, experimenting, investigating, and creating. I’m trying to imagine the technologically driven classrooms that my kids will be learning in; it excites me to think about how our flattening world will provide so many educational opportunities to our kids.I hope that my children engage in positive, healthy risk-taking their whole life, that they always want to learn and grow, and that the feeling of being successful after learning from failure never diminishes. We all have a role in creating those comfortable environments for students that also push them. How do you encourage risk-taking in your classroom or school?