Don’t be fooled, this label applies to every person that is reading this post. Even the most conservative and safe amongst us is a risk taker. As with everything, the term is relative to our situation and personality…but the “absolute” I need you to accept is that “WE”, “YOU”, ” THEY” are all risk takers.
You’ve taken a risk thousands of times throughout your life. Jumping on a bike for the first time (the dang thing won’t even stand up without me on it…how’s it not going to tip when I start riding?) Asking that boy or girl out to the movies…reaching over and holding their hand. The first time you spoke up and disagreed with something your mother or father-in-law was talking about. All, risks. Certainly some paid off and some fell flat.
We tend to avoid taking risks because of the obvious consequence that we might fail. The bigger the risk, the bigger the reward…or failure.
The problem is, “risk taker” has transformed into something that only seems applicable to someone who does it on a larger scale.
If I ask you to give me the names of some major risk-takers, names like George Washington, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk would probably come to mind. The potential for being executed, financially bankrupt, or a worldwide laughing stock are certainly large risks to take, but they aren’t the type of risks most people need to/or will take.
We need risk takers now, more than ever, especially in education. I hate the term “teaching is a noble profession.” No it isn’t! Teaching is a noble “vocation.”
A vocation is a unique calling, not something every person is cut out for. Teachers wield some of the strongest influences in regards to the growth and direction of our country and this cannot be understated. Because of this we need educational risk takers now more than ever. Here’s why:
What is your answer to the following question?
“Can you guarantee to EVERY parent of the students in your room, that their child is learning at high levels. More so, could you prove it?”
I know what my answer, as a teacher, would have been. NO.
If you had the same answer and truly view education as a vocation that strengthens and betters the future of our country, than you have begun step one of a very important process to successful risk taking. Notice I said “successful.” The concept of a risk is that there is no guarantee for success. So, the key then becomes in mitigating as much risk as possible before taking your risk. I have found that following a simple formula can have a tremendously positive impact on the outcome of your risk. This equation is something that I have developed over the past few years and has proved to work very successfully regardless of the “risk magnitude.”
Successful Risk-Taker equation:
Awareness + Acceptance + Ardent Action = Reward
Step 1: Awareness
You are now aware of the problem and I am assuming that you see it as an issue that not every student in your classroom is learning at high levels (this includes the gifted students that might be cruising through your course with very little challenge)
A problem needs fixed. That’s our typical mentality as humans. You can’t fix a problem until you are aware of it. Awareness is important, but it is sometimes is the step we all get stuck on. This can easily turn into gripe sessions if we don’t move past awareness. Remember, awareness doesn’t mean jack unless you decide to do something with that information. Your mind needs to quickly shift towards to the next part of the equation “acceptance.” However, going into this next phase, you need it straight in your mind that you will have to do things differently. Otherwise, don’t expect to see a different result. What needs to be done differently? That is for the next step…for now, just being aware of the problem is key.
Step 2: Acceptance
The above image is from inside my wallet/money case and I think it sums up step 2 of the risk taking process “Acceptance”, perfectly. “Did you do what you wanted with this life or did life do what it wanted to you?” Acceptance means you have identified the problem, and although it it’s not going to be easy, you are willing to stay true to who you are and work to fix the problem. Regardless of what others might think or say.
Before you can accept, sometimes you need to reflect on your current state: “What do you expect out of yourself as an educator?” “Do you still view what you do as a vocation?” “Do you believe you have a valuable impact on students?” “Are you giving students your best? “
If you are searching for “that something different” in order to change your response to the answer I posed about EVERY student learning at high levels found above, I suggest utilizing the PLC process with fidelity.
PLC’s, or Professional Learning Communities, are where teachers work collaboratively and humbly to share data, strategies, interventions etc. to produce high levels of learning for all students. PLC’s have statistically shown to have some of the greatest effect sizes on student learning.
However, Awareness and Acceptance are the easiest parts of the equation to work through. Without the final, most important variable, your risk will most likely fail.
Step 3: Ardent Action
An unwavering commitment and dedication to what you have accepted is absolutely the secret sauce to the equation. The idea that you might need to have some difficult conversations, not remain everyone’s best friend, and perhaps accept that the way you have done things in your classroom might not be the best way to do things moving forward cannot scare you away from the target of success. “Did you do what you wanted with your life or did life do what it wanted with you?” This is a call to leadership, belief, and commitment to what you are doing. I can’t think of a more noble cause than pursuing high levels of learning for all students. If you keep pushing your team, asking the hard questions, searching for the “right” answers you really won’t have any option but to succeed (Reward.) Success breads success and what initially might have appeared as taking a significant risk…probably won’t feel like much of a risk in hindsight. Lead by example and always keep the focus of “why you are doing what you are doing.”
Awareness + Acceptance + Ardent Action = Reward
This equation can be applied to almost any situation, whether educational, personal, entrepreneurial, etc. Most people that appear to take larges risks, when asked about how they had the courage to do so, respond that they really didn’t see much risk in what they were doing. Why is that? Because they knew they controlled the most important variable of the equation “Ardent Action.” They controlled the laser focus and intensity with which they are going to approach their problems or challenges and would do whatever it took to get the “reward” they desired. The more you work through this process, the easier it becomes to implement it with “larger risks.” I would find it hard to believe that George Washington’s first major risk-taking experience was to sign up as general of the revolting colonists against the strongest military force of that time. The problem was identified, he accepted a solution that fit with is own personal beliefs and ideals, and took ardent action. His rewards can be seen almost everywhere (including my wallet).
I have quoted Einstein and Alexander the Great in this post but I want to leave you with a thought about risk-taking and the rewards it can elicit. These are from the wise philosopher Steve Harvey :)
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