are you a risky teacher?

Post & photo by Kylie Budge.

Are you much of a risk taker in your teaching?

By this I mean do you like to step out of your teaching comfort zone very often? Are you happy to try out new ideas with your students, or new ways of doing things to see if a different approach with something will re-energise and engage everyone (yourself included)?

Or is risk taking something you’d rather avoid?

This is a topic I found myself discussing with a group of teachers recently and it led to range of interesting places. We talked about what level of risk we felt comfortable with in our teaching and the kind of situations where it felt too scary to go further.

Let’s be honest, it takes courage to try something new in teaching. And there are lots of reasons why. Things can go horribly wrong, for one. Your students might not like what you’re trying out on them either. And then there’s the not-so-small issue of student feedback surveys – what if your students hate the new approaches you’re trying out so much that they rate their experience in your class very low? All of these are real possibilities. Most (if not all) teachers who’ve been brave enough to take a risk in trying something new with their students have faced these issues (and probably more) squarely in the face.

But what if we were to understand risk taking in a different light? What if we were to accept that at it’s very core teaching is a creative endeavour, and that like all creative endeavours worth their salt, risk taking is part of what happens to get to the brilliant, beautiful stuff? And what about if we allowed ourselves some room to experiment, explore and create the new approaches in our teaching without putting ridiculously high pressures on ourselves to get it right the first time?

Give yourself permission to sit in this space for a moment and see how it feels.

And then, if you’re feeling in the mood to try something new in your teaching, here are some useful guidelines I’ve accumulated from my own teaching and risk taking adventures that you might like to consider:

  • take a risk with a colleague (or 2 or more). You don’t have to do it alone.
  • think about why you’re making the change to your teaching. Be sure you’re convinced of the reasons.
  • establish realistic expectations and goals.
  • tell yourself it’s alright if things aren’t perfect the first time you try. You’ll learn from trying, fine tune your ideas and do it better the second time.
  • talk to your students about what you’re doing and why. The why part is important because they also need to understand why things might be suddenly different. This way you’re more likely to get them on board and face less resistance.
  • prepare and plan as much as you can. But don’t over-do it.
  • read and learn from others who may have tried similar approaches to the one you’re considering.
  • talk to your colleagues. See if anyone else has tried your risky idea. How did it go for them?
  • ask a colleague who uses a similar approach if you can observe one of their classes or even team teach with them so that you can get a better handle on the idea before you try it in your own class.
  • when things get a bit tough, don’t give up too easily. Keep persisting. You might be surprised where the tough patch leads you.
  • when the risky period in your teaching is over evaluate what happened – evaluate it yourself and seek feedback from your students.

Have you taken any risks recently in your teaching? How did they work out?

Do you have any other tips for those who might be thinking about taking a leap and trialing something new? If so, do share. We’d love to hear.