Risk- now a buzz word in education was once a taboo word to be used in schools. We had programs designed to limit “risky behavior” in our students. Teachers were reminded to stick to the plan and limit “risks that could jeopardize performance”. Schools were designed to be stagnant waters of repeated performances. Policies, legislation, and curriculum were all designed around perpetuating the status quo. Now however, thanks to the work and influence of some edu-heroes, some renegades, and pirates of education, risks, and the willingness to brave uncharted waters, are being celebrated like never before.
In the iconic movie A Christmas Story we are greeted with one of my favorite lines. Many of you have seen this movie and remember the scene well. Ralphie, a character who narrates the movie as an adult, replays a scene from his childood where a school mate decides to stick his tongue to a frozen pole, only to be rescued by the local fire department through the onlooking stares of every child in the school as his tongue freezes. This young man did not just willingly walk up to the pole with this crazy idea and find himself stuck. He did it because he was dared to.
“NOW it was serious. A double-dog-dare. What else was there but a “triple dare you”? And then, the coup de grace of all dares, the sinister triple-dog- dare.”
Most of us are knee deep in testing season in our schools. We are seated firmly in the comfort zone. We are in a place where we are told it would be foolish to try anything new. Too much is at stake right now for us to deviate from the norm. Now is not the time to experiment, but….what if it is? Why can’t you take the leap today?
Why isn’t today the day to take a risk? Why is October any better than May? Why should we only willingly take a risk when we feel safe? Doesn’t that completely defeat the purpose of taking a risk?
As educators we are told that we must model lifelong learning. We tell our students that learning only happens in the face of newness. We can only grow if we are confronted by opportunities. As teachers, as agents of change, today is our day. Today is the day to take a risk, to learn something new and to grow. I double dog dare you.
At my school, we are using this time of year, the time of year when teachers could easily check out and start counting down, the time of year when students are over tested and over stressed, to try something new. Here’s a summary of some of what we do.
- Brag tags:
This super simple strategy is designed to celebrate risky behavior. Each morning we gather as a full staff of 75 individuals for what we call a Morning Huddle (think of a football team gathering before an offensive play to make sure everyone knows their assignment). At these brief ten minute meetings, we reflect on the day before and plan for the day ahead. We end many of these meetings by celebrating each other. With an inexpensive purchase from The Oriental Trading Company, I was able to buy a few hundred Pirate Brag Tags. Teachers and staff members can nominate each other and point out a risky behavior observed by a peer. The honored staff member then gets a tag to wear each and every day. As new tags are worn, students ask the question, “How did you earn that?” and as they are told, they are inspired and encouraged that risk taking is normal, even in adults.
- Challenge Thursdays
Six weeks ago we began this strategy, really as a means to try and reduce classroom management struggles. As we analyzed our data at this time last year, we noticed that for some reason, Thursdays were the days where our students seemed to struggle the most. Many who would come to our building noticed that on Thursdays I often wore tennis shoes because I would be bouncing from class to class, chasing kids, and putting out proverbial fires. Whether it was because it was Friday eve, because there was a lack of intentional planning, or because students were tired from a long week, we never could quite figure out, but we knew something different had to be done. So, six weeks ago I challenged my staff to a Paperless Thursday. On that one day teachers were asked to not use, not touch, not pass out anything made from paper. I told them I would model this example by not signing any leave slips, creating any newsletters, or using paper myself. The results were amazing. On that day we saw an 85% reduction in student behavior calls. As a result, each Thursday since has resulted in a new challenge. See the full list below. Because of these challenges, teachers are growing their pedagogy, they are thinking outside the proverbial box, students are more engaged, and we are all seeing the benefits.
Along with Challenge Thursdays, we have reflection Fridays. We don’t want anyone to be misled to think every challenge results in greatness. Sometimes we see epic failure, and we use Fridays to discuss, debate, reflect, and improve. We are not one hit wonders. We are looking to keep growing and keep improving, through risk, reflection, and recovery.
As you finish up your school year, remember learning comes from newness. Try something new today. Take a risk. Inspire someone else. I dare you…no, I double dog dare you!
Dave is a current school principal in Pensacola, FL. and author of It’s Like Riding a Bike: How to Make Learning Last a Lifetime.
Check out Dave’s other blog posts here: www.schmittou.net
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