Encouraging Students to Be Risk-Takers #ThankATeacher

Topics: Education Policy, ESSA

Kate can attribute her risk-taking mentality to Ms. Bass, her fifth-grade teacher. We are in countdown mode in our home. Only 18 days left of school for my graduating high school senior. Translation: This mom is just short of redefining utility companies. It’s waterworks, nearly every day.

Just yesterday, Kate told me she applied to be the welcome speaker for her graduation ceremony. I was listening to her audition speech and got lost in my reflection of what got her here. Here she is, putting herself out there for a chance to address more than a thousand people. She boldly decided to take a gap semester to travel to four countries in Southeast Asia for ten weeks before heading to North Carolina State University in the spring to pursue a degree in Textiles Management. How did she become such a bold, courageous young woman?

Children learn more from what you are than what you teach

Celebrating accomplishments born of courage and the work itself, fosters a culture of risk-takers. Teachers, YMCA mentors, coaches, my colleagues at work. They all helped to shape her. Her perspectives, her understanding of people, and her values. In one of her college essays, Kate wrote about risk-taking to answer the prompt: When did you realize that you were transitioning from childhood to adulthood.

In her essay, she described her nervousness in traveling to New York for a summer program, leaving her friends and family behind to pursue something new and different on her own; and how she handled a situation when she felt like she failed while participating in the program and what she learned from it.

When I thought about how my daughter might have learned that risk-taking was an important attribute, enough to characterize herself as that to get into a highly competitive program, I immediately thought of a teacher that stood out – Ms. Bass, her fifth-grade teacher.

Encourage risk-taking

Ms. Bass encouraged a classroom culture of risk-taking. Kate’s signature line in school was “I have a question.” Some, including teachers, found it annoying. Others rolled their eyes. Ms. Bass encouraged it. Drawing out kids to ask questions – “there is no dumb question,” creating a safe environment to inquire, share, and learn.

  1. Demonstrate risk-taking
  2. Be willing to fail
  3. Build risk-taking into your classroom management

Effort leads to improvement. Ms. Bass was a cheerleader for continuous learning and improvement. She helped kids to understand that feedback was important and necessary to get better. If writing was a process, the process included getting feedback from three different peers on your draft. She helped them to recover when they didn’t get something the first time – “That’s okay, keep at it. You may not be there, yet… but you will!” She rallied students to support each other’s learning… helping them to recognize you could go at it alone and do the research all by yourself, or you can go at it together and contribute different perspectives and sources as a team.

Reward the behavior

The best part about reflection, is gratitude. As I was reflecting on these moments, I was scrolling through my twitter feed and ran across this gem:

Ms. Bass was recognized at her school during Teacher Appreciation Week #ThankATeacher, as the “Greatest Risk Taker” and she now has her own walk of fame star in the main hallway.

Celebrating accomplishments born of courage and the work itself, fosters a culture of risk-takers.

Thank you Ms. Bass, for taking a risk on my daughter, and helping her to be more.

Help celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week by thanking the special teacher(s) in your life. You can join the conversation on Twitter at #ThankATeacher.

Article by Cris Charbonneau