Wednesday, May 13, 2015

"One of the reasons people stop learning is that they become less and less willing to risk failure." - John W. Gardner

Failure is not a fun word.  It's something negative.  When we try and celebrate failure in education (and I understand the positive reasons why this is tried), it falls flat for me.

It's not failure that we want to encourage. It's taking a risk. Nothing gets done without some risk involved. Babe Ruth's batting average of .342 isn't about celebrating the times he didn't connect with the ball, it's about honoring the three out of ten times he did--and knowing that in order to do so, he was taking a risk each time at bat that he might not get a hit.

No risk = no progress. And when we risk and don't succeed, it's about understanding that formula and keeping perspective on our failures. That so many students graduate high school (or don't even graduate) and feel that they are themselves failures--the accumulation of all their tracked and tested failures--is a tragedy of enormous human consequence.

So how do we create a risk-conducive environment for students? Babe Ruth's batting average wasn't about getting lucky three out of ten times, it was the result of skill and work and perseverance. So we care an environment that includes lots of:
  • skill building
  • practice
  • times "at bat" (opportunities to hit or miss)
  • adults who model risk-taking behavior (not the same as risky behavior)
  • measuring that actually helps the student know how he or she is doing
  • appropriate consequences
  • opportunities to try new things
  • opportunities to stop doing something that's not working
  • independence
  • time to reflect, think, and start anew
There is also the cognitive coaching associated with an environment that helps students to take risks, the modeling of a way of thinking about being and learning that need to get passed on. Associated with this mindset, and skills the adults need to have in order to be able to share them, are are the skills of:
  • ignoring other voices or putting them in context
  • ignoring or taming the self-critical voice
  • understanding that you cannot do or be all things
  • recognizing the role of chance in life
  • always having multiple "irons in the fire" so you can match what you care about with what the world is willing to pay you to do
  • being able to let something go that is not working
  • having perspective
Want to build a learning environment that allows for risk and helps build student cognitive skills? It takes time. In fact, helping students take risk involves a LOT more time than just asking them to follow along with everyone else. This is a human endeavor. Technologies may increase the scope or opportunities, but they do not shorten the human interaction needed.

We all need to hear this:  "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." - Wayne Gretsky

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