Sharing our fears with our students

I am not a risk-taker in both the physical and not-physical sense. Thinking myself adept in the process of cost-benefit analysis (just not the math kind), I have made sure to make choices that put my planned-upon success before the risky kind of success. I have never broken a bone because I haven’t really ever put my self in a situation where bone-breaking is a thing that is an option—until I found rock climbing.

I have a colleague named Bob Smith (not a fake name, he elected to share his name because he’s just that cool) who climbs rocks for fun and is also a guide. It is his passion and his life. He goes and climbs things far away and has minimal showers and he loves it. He is also a teacher who inspires me. When I initially met him, I thought a couple things: 1. he had a death-wish and 2. he is clinically insane.

A year later, I do not think those things anymore because oh, how the tables have turned. Along with the disdain of my mother, I can refer to myself as an ‘amateur recreational rock climber’ (I’m thinking of putting that on tshirts) thanks to my colleague and my husband’s insistence that I get on the wall. Not because it makes you look cool in your Facebook photos, but for something else (but also for the Facebook photos).

With the recent death of Dean Potter during a BASE jump, I had mixed feelings. Why would someone put themselves in situations that are so risky? What do they get out of it? And what happens if they die? As I was surfing the interwebs about this, I found a TIME article from a famous climber, Alex Honnold, where he gives a climber’s perspective on Dean’s life. In short, it’s this: he had a dream, and he was willing to risk his life for it in a calculated way. Sometimes calculated risks have consequences.

I can imagine what you’re asking: what does this have to do with teaching?

According to standards in Colorado’s teacher evaluation rubric as well as in the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, we are supposed to not only be encouraging students to take risks in the classroom, but they are actually supposed to demonstrate risk taking. I am still grappling with how to do this or even think about doing this. How can I teach them risk taking if I can’t show them how to take risks?

A reason why I keep rock climbing, even though it scares the bejeezus out of me sometimes, is because of the feeling of “I can do that move! I couldn’t do that two months ago.” And as I keep taking those small, calculated risks, I keep getting better with the help of talking myself out of chickening out and with the help of others. Sometimes I scrape a knee and complain about it because I’m a wimp but then I keep going. And I think learning is a lot like that. We take calculated risks and sometimes there are consequences and sometimes there are wonderful gains. I think anyone can rock climb and anyone can learn anything if we approach it this way.

This year, one of my goals is to gain more insight on this. I am going to share my fears and how it relates to risk taking with my students. Often teachers are seen as people who have to have it all together, when in my case I laugh and think “ha! I never have it together!”

There are many times in school where this applies: I’m afraid to speak up when I feel like I have an idea to contribute, instead of taking the risk to share because I am afraid it will get shot down. I’m afraid to share my criticism or disagreements about an issue instead of taking the risk to be vocal because I’m afraid I’ll burn bridges or offend someone. Sometimes, I’m even afraid to start something daunting because I think I’ll fail. I know my students can relate to that.

In the mean time, I will be searching for strategies to help build a risk-taking classroom community. Let me know if you have any insight or resources relating to this!

-S

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