As a language teacher, I always understood that it took a certain amount of vulnerability to begin to speak in the classroom: you had to create sounds that you may never had made before and you sounded funny, what would others think? It was an intentional regular practice to establish an environment where it was acceptable that we were all learning, all trying, and consistently working on improving and it was OK to speak. It often helped that I was usually the first to do or say something awkward (most of the time intentional). It was a practice that didn’t end during the first week of school, but one that became an integral component of my planning. Speaking is a natural part of language instruction, so I was creating a pallet where that could happen.
Speaking a different language was a risk, but it’s in taking risks that new skills and problem-solving abilities are developed (“Risk-taking”). It requires letting go of your comfort zone and guiding students into letting go of theirs. It necessitates an environment where it’s OK to fail and it’s understood that failure is a part of learning. Student need to understand “that making mistakes is a necessary part of learning” and “that embracing failure and overcoming fear are both a part of living well and learning even better” (Crockett). It’s the environment that we create which allows this to happen. That positive environment provides a pivotal role in learning, creates a sense of belonging, a community, increased participation and building confidence (Coaty). The result is that “students can learn and flourish in this environment because they feel empowered to take risks by expressing their unique insights and disagreeing with others’ point of view” (Gayle et al).
Here are some suggestions adapted and modified from Starr Sackstein’s article:
- Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Use your as examples.
- Admit when you don’t know something and discover it with your students. Adopt the “Let’s find out together”
- Applaud the risks that students take, successful or unsuccessful. Honor the learning process.
- Explore some tools, digital or other, that allow for a wider student voice.
- Try a backchannel tool for increased student voice.
- Practice your wait time.
- Develop your own classroom parking lot for questions or concerns.
- Review and reinforce classroom practices that promote a positive classroom community and encourage risk.
- How do you help ensure a positive climate in your classroom?
- How do you establish it?
- How do you maintain it?
- What do you do when something or someone violates that?
- How do you encourage risks?
- What do risk look like in your classroom?
- How do students feel supported in your class?
“Kids need to understand that innovation can only happen when we move away from what has already been learned and done and with some creativity and courage, we make really make meaningful change together.” Sackstein
- Coaty, Matt. “Classrooms That Encourage Risk-Taking Strategies.” Educational Aspirations, 30 June 2014, mattcoaty.com/2014/06/29/risk-taking/.
- Crockett, Lee Watanabe. “No-Fear Learning: Creating Classrooms for Taking Safe Learning Risks.” Global Digital Citizen Foundation, 11 May 2017, globaldigitalcitizen.org/no-fear-learning.
- Gayle, Barbara Mae Dr.; Cortez, Derek; and Preiss, Raymond W. (2013) “Safe Spaces, Difficult Dialogues, and Critical Thinking,” International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: Vol. 7: No. 2, Article 5. Available at: https://doi.org/10.20429/ijsotl.2013.070205
- Ingram, Leticia Guzman. “A Classroom Full of Risk Takers.” Edutopia, 14 Sept. 2017, http://www.edutopia.org/article/classroom-full-risk-takers.
- “Risk-Taking: What Does It Mean to You?” News from around the IB Community, International Baccalaureate Organization, 8 July 2015, blogs.ibo.org/blog/2015/07/08/risk-taking-what-does-it-mean-to-you/.
- Sackstein, Starr. “Establish a Safe Place for Risk Taking.” Education Week – Work in Progress, 9 Sept. 2015, blogs.edweek.org/teachers/work_in_progress/2015/09/establish_a_safe_place_for_ris.html.
- Shepherd, Jessica. “Fertile Minds Need Feeding: Interview- Ken Robinson.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 9 Feb. 2009, http://www.theguardian.com/education/2009/feb/10/teaching-sats.
- Smith, Kristi Johnson. “1.6 Creating a Safe Space for Students to Take Academic Risks.” Creating a Safe Space for Students to Take Academic Risks – Starting the Year Right – The First Year, Learn NC, http://www.learnnc.org/lp/editions/firstyear/258.
- Stringer, Kate. “Finding Success in Failure: STEM Educators Say Student Risk-Taking Is Key to Real-World Learning.” The 74 Finding Success in Failure STEM Educators Say Student RiskTaking Is Key to RealWorld Learning Comments, The 74 Million, 12 Dec. 2016, http://www.the74million.org/article/finding-success-in-failure-stem-educators-say-student-risk-taking-is-key-to-real-world-learning/.
Change is hard. Change, when we don’t drive it ourselves, can make us feel like we haven’t been doing something right or our work isn’t good enough. That’s not what it’s meant to be.
“Change is an opportunity to do something amazing” (Couros 3). It’s the process of bettering ourselves, of improving, growing and always learning. To change as educators is to embrace the premise that our world is continually evolving and our students will need to be prepared to walk into a world that is different than yesterday and especially different than the world we walked into at their age. To change is to innovate our instruction to meet today’s students where they are and not where we once were.
Change, for the sake of change, is not innovation. It’s just something different. Merely using technology is not innovation, either. “Technology can be crucial in the development of innovative organizations, but innovation is less about tools like computers, tablets, social media, and the Internet, and more about how we use those things” (Couros 20). It’s the why that gives us vision and inspires us (Sinek); it’s that how that puts our vision into action.
We have an amazing opportunity to change the learning experiences of our students on a daily basis. For that change to be innovative, we need to keep the learner at the center and ask what is best for this learner and what is best for his or her future. “Any time teachers think differently about who they teach and how they teach, they can create better learning opportunities” (Couros 21).
“The role of the teacher is to inspire learning and develop skills and mindsets of learners. A teacher, designer and facilitator, should continually evolve with resources, experiences, and the support of a community.” (Martin) Keep the dialog open. Ask questions. Collaborate. Take a risk. Reflect. Re-evaluate. Share. You have a community. Take advantage of those resources. Take the opportunity to do something amazing.
- Couros, George. “What Innovation Is and Isn’t.” The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity, Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc., 2015.
- Martin, Katie. “Creating a Culture of Innovation Versus Transformation, “ katiemartin.com, June 10, 2015, https://katielmartin.com/2015/06/10/creating-a-culture-of-innovation-vs-a-transformation.
- Sinek, Simon. “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” TED Talk video, 18:04, September 2009, https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action .
Take a risk. That’s a difficult charge. Sometimes it sounds like we aren’t doing a good enough job. Sometimes we wonder why tried-and-true means aren’t good enough. It takes risk to move forward and continue learning. It takes risk to amend or even outright change a lesson, a target, an essential question, or a practice. If we expect our students to continually learn in order to improve, then we must also follow that parallel path and strive to continually improve our own practice (Wennergren 134). The 1:1 environment sets the stage for change in the classroom; the tried-and-true doesn’t always mesh with our current learning environment or the world our students face every day. “This age of exponential change leaves us no choice – we must change or our students will fall behind.” (Tormala). “We will need to consider how to best harness exponential change in order to create equitable outcomes for all learners.” (Swanson)
Taking a risk is hard. Change is difficult. The Law of Diffusion of Innovation says that in order to change, we must take risks, learn from successes and failures, grow with the mindset of continuous improvement, and innovate by finding new ways to solve the challenges we face (Tormala). It’s OK not to know what resources and tools are out there and how they work. We’re learning. The good news is that you have support: department or team learning leaders, instructional coaches, your Teacher-Librarian, your Digital Learning Coach. Additionally, the online world is full of learning communities ready to support and share ideas, too. Edutopia and Twitter chats are just two of the many online resources full of ideas, resources and support for educators.
Reach out. Ask Questions. Collaborate. Co-teach. Take one step at a time. You aren’t alone on this road.
Time. It seems we never have enough of it. Grading, meetings, more grading, more meetings. There’s always so much to do. How does collaboration fit in to this when there are so many urgencies? Why should we give up more time for collaboration?
Collaboration focuses around the collective responsibility to improve student learning by improving teaching (Wennergren 134). “Teachers must apply their learning to themselves as well as their students.” (Wennergren 134) It’s a parallel process characterized by mutual engagement in procedures, tools, concepts, language and different ways of acting.
So we collaborate, because it helps us help our students learn. This time is especially helpful regarding digital pedagogy: what it means, how it embeds into our daily instruction, how it impacts student learning. This time together gives us the opportunity to learn, investigate, create and share resources, lessons and ideas. We have the opportunity to learn together what digital pedagogy is and what it looks like for us, in our teams, in our content area. It is professional learning differentiated for you.
Digital technologies are fundamentally changing our world. Taking advantage of their strengths to help students learn is something best done collaboratively. Technology is not our enemy. With some patience, careful planning, and thoughtful consideration, we will create more skilled students who are ready for the future, while creating a more enriching classroom dynamic where technology is just another tool for building students’ success (Doyle-Jones 6). Take the opportunity, take a risk with your team, try something different, and explore the possibilities that digital resources bring to education.