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The Freedom That Comes From Having the Courage to Take Risks

I never lose. I either win, or I learn. (Nelson Mandela)

Take Risks

The previous two words come up a lot in conversation about growth and education. Often educators, when asked about different topics, will add ¨take risks¨ to part of an answer. It was not until recently that I paused to think about what Taking Risks required. Freedom to get used to taking risks comes when the consequences are manageable. When negative results are too overwhelming, it does not feel free to try something new. Having a growth mindset as an educator and encouraging students to do the same is critical. 

Freedom In Trying

This weekend, my daughter auditioned for a part in The Nutcracker.  Auditioning for a role or interviewing for a job feels like taking a pretty big risk. Sometimes you are not quite as prepared as you would like to be. Several unknown things that are part of the process, and not being chosen is a very real possibility. But, if you don't put yourself out there you miss out on an opportunity to either gain experience or excel. It is possible that the first couple of times you try something, things might not work out. A lesson does not go as planned, a conversation with a student or colleague does not make the impact you hoped for, or an assessment reveals that students are not at the level you anticipated.  

However, as my daughter mentioned when I asked her if it is discouraging when she is not chosen for a big part in a play, she responded, ``Each audition gives you more experience that you might need for something else.” Whether it be the stage floor, or the classroom tile, the experience gained is profound. One of the times, things come together, and things work better than we could have imagined. There is freedom in not wondering what could have happened if something would have worked out if only we would have had the courage to attempt it.

Regular Risks

In the classroom, we have the opportunity to take risks all the time. Rather than using the familiar resources because we have before, there are opportunities to look at new materials and stretch ourselves to create different learning experiences. As the authors in Keeping the Wonder, by Dave Burgess Consulting suggest, we take risks to find the balance between having enough educational content and allowing students the opportunity to embrace play. The book suggests that creativity is not fixed and can be improved.  If we want to take more risks, bring students opportunities for more joy, and make the most of our classroom, we must continually be willing to work at it.  Freedom to take regular risks in the classroom comes when we know there are several opportunities to try new things without heavy consequences. The more you see yourself as a risk taker, the easier it is to remove emotion from the result, and feel good about it being just what you do. 

The Consequences Have to Be Tolerable

The willingness to take a risk comes from knowing that the consequences are okay, and we feel that taking the risk has a big safety net. Teachers might feel overwhelmed and fearful of trying things when the outcome is part of a permanent evaluation. Likewise, students are often unwilling to try a challenge that might lead to a poor grade. If we want students to be risk takers we have to give them the opportunity to ease into new challenges knowing the outcome does not define them. This is exactly the situation where educators should not grade, time, or assess students in a permanent way. 

Freedom comes from knowing that the consequences are not bigger than what can be gained from trying something new. 

The Worst-Case Scenario Can Happen

I am a pretty optimistic person, but I also realize that sometimes life does not go the way we plan. We can be excited about taking a risk and even feel prepared to do so. However, not everything works out 100 percent of the time, but there is a good chance we can recover from 100 percent of the things that turn out poorly. If we want students to take risks, we have to model it ourselves to understand the stress involved. It is helpful to try new things in our professional and personal lives so that we are familiar with the mindset of a student who does not take regular risks. 

A few weeks ago, I took a risk as a runner. I accepted an invitation to run with a pretty impressive and considerably fast runner. While we had agreed on a relaxed pace, I was determined to have a successful experience. I took a risk by agreeing to the run but ended up having an awful run. The heat got to me, and I struggled to maintain an easy pace and even had to stop twice. The run went worse than I had predicted. The other runner assured me it was okay and that she would run with me again. There is freedom in having things go wrong. It shows you that while it feels like you are hitting rock bottom and failing, things can only get better.  After I finished one of my worst runs in a long time, I realized that a year ago, I would have been too concerned with failure to take big risks as a runner. I am sure I would have turned down the opportunity to run with someone considerably better than I am because failing is scary. On the other side of fear, the magic begins to unfold, freedom is felt and we know that with fear at our back, opportunity lies ahead of us. 

There is freedom in having things turn out poorly. 

An Opportunity in the Mess

When things turn out differently than we anticipate, it is an opportunity to shift mindset and be creative.  And, most importantly, it is empowering because we know that it is possible to survive in difficult situations. The solution is to continually put ourselves outside our comfort zone. The more we attempt, the larger our comfort stretches. The unknown can be scary at times, but the more we are used to challenging ourselves, trying new things, and taking risks, freedom comes from developing a larger comfort zone. Renowned educator and author of The Pepper Effect, Sean Gaillard (@smgaillard)says, surround yourself with people who believe that your impossible is possible. Some risks feel nearly impossible. However, freedom is found when we surround ourselves with people who encourage us to stretch ourselves and stand on the other side of fear. 

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