Reading this most excellent post by Ira Socol this morning got me thinking about the word “risk” and its use in a learning context. So often I hear that we in education need to “take more risks,” or that our kids need to do that, that “risk-taking” is an important part of learning.
And I totally agree.
But what is “risk” exactly? I mean, what’s the bar for “risk-taking?”
At it’s most basic level, as Ira suggests, it’s just doing something different, changing up the lesson, changing the environment, or trying a new technology. While I may not see these as “risky” practices at all, I understand how hard it is for some to do even that much. (Actually, maybe I don’t understand that, unless the adults feel no sense of a culture that supports (or expects) at least these kinds of minor tweaks.)
At it’s most extreme level, I would assume taking a risk would mean to put kids in harm’s way. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever seen or heard of someone doing that, regardless of how you define “harm.” (I’m sure someone will share a story of such “risk-taking” now that I’ve said that.)
So what is the “risk” that we’re really talking about?
Is it the “risk” of failure?
The “risk” of losing control?
The “risk” of not having permission?
I’m sure that’s a part of it, but it’s arguable how “risky” those things really are.
But my sense is this: The real risk people feel in education is around letting kids make decisions for themselves and have agency over their own learning. It’s also a risk to let teachers do that stuff, too, to let them be learners in their own right. That’s just not the way it’s done. We don’t trust “them” enough to learn with us instead of from “us” however you define those groups.
I wonder what we risk by doing that, by not making it about the learning rather than the teaching. I wonder what we risk by not creating cultures where learners are trusted, at every level, from the board to the administration to students to the community, to find and pursue meaningful and interesting questions that matter to them.
I wonder what we risk by not taking risks.
(Image credit: Anton Repponen)