Innovative teaching and learning will involve risks. If we are to create new opportunities for the learners we serve, things will not always work. Yet why would we take risks in the classroom, especially when it deals with the future of our students? The answer is in the question. Many of our known “best practices” don’t serve a large number of our students. If we used “grades” as the measure, then we would have figured it out a long time ago. Part of the risk is necessary to ensure that we are meeting the needs of our students. Some will respond to one way of learning, while others won’t. Not taking the risk might be less daunting to you now, but the result later may have dire consequences for our students.
Yet when we think of risk, we shouldn’t just challenge what doesn’t work, but sometimes we will also have to challenge what does work for some of our learners. We can give a student a worksheet and that specific student may still knock it out of the park in all of their assessments, yet this is not necessarily because of the teaching, but often because of the capabilities of that specific student. A rubrics may be helpful to a student so that they can understand and meet expectations, but does it ever actually hold a student back from going beyond what they are actually truly capable of doing? If grades are the way things are measured, and an “A” is the highest mark you can get, why would I go beyond that?
The risk that we face here is actually of conditioning kids to “schooling”.
Many students have become so accustomed to what school has looked like, that they do not want their education to look any other way. But just think of our kindergarten students, and how curious they are before they come to school. Before school, they ask a ton of questions and are naturally curious, but the one questions I would guarantee that they never ask is, “Am I able to get a worksheet?” Many students would have never seen one before their time in school, yet I have heard many educators say they have tried new ways of learning with students that really push for deeper learning and creation, that their students sometimes respond with, “Can you just give us a worksheet??!?!” Education has sometimes conditioned them to that.
There has to be a balance of going with what you know, yet still have the willingness to try something new. Apple still makes a great computer and that is a major part of their business and they could have stopped there, but they went out on a limb creating the iPhone, which has become their most successful product. Yet taking the “risk” and trying to create something better, led to other successful endeavours for the company (app store, iPad, and perhaps the Apple Watch). They could have rested on what they knew, but the mantra of “innovate or die”, that exists for so many companies, includes taking the risk of challenging not only what doesn’t work, but what does.
What is important is that we continue ask the question, “What is best for kids?”, and not try to answer that for our learners, but work from an empathetic viewpoint of our students. If we are really wanting to serve our students and help them to develop to become the leaders and learners of today and the future, taking risks in our practice is not only encouraged, but necessary.