Risky Business

I hear from educators all the time about the fears that they have about changing what they do. What if I try things and they don’t work?  If I’m a teacher and I fail at something, how will I be perceived?  By my colleagues?  By my students? By parents? What will happen if I try something and the administrator that evaluates me walks past my room and doesn’t understand what I am trying to do?  As an administrator, what if I fail at something?  How will that be perceived by students, teachers, peers and the community I serve?  The questions are the same regardless of the role.  There is a fear of failing and what that can mean.  Doing something new or something different is a risk, and associated with that is the opportunity to fail.  And when such a risk exists, and that potential outcome is indeed a reality, people are less inclined to engage in that activity.  No one wants to fail at something.

Yet, at the same time, there is a growing interest among educators in helping students learn how to fail.  A quick trip through your Twitter feed validates that, as well as keynoters shouting it from the stage at just about every conference.  And I simply cannot think of worse advice, or of a worse direction, and how misguided focusing on failure actually is, but that’s for another post.  However, what I find interesting is the concern about the fear and the risks that educators have about failing, but at the same time, a belief that it's perfectly acceptable for students to take risks and “learn how to fail.”  And I would offer that failure at any age has ramifications, and that being young and being a student does not make failure any more palatable.

What’s missing in all of this is one simple word that changes everything.  It’s strategy. Add strategic in front of risk and risk becomes different. Instead of taking risks, what if teachers and students took strategic risks?  Not just a risk, but a calculated risk framed within a process where bold steps were expected, supported, and celebrated?  Being strategic means that risk-taking occurs within an environment where course correction and iteration is not only accepted, but expected, and is part of a process that ultimately focuses on achievement and  successful outcomes. In my mind, taking a strategic risk is much different than taking a risk.

Missing from the last paragraph is any mention of failure.  In fact, what’s mentioned above is a million miles away from teaching kids how to fail.  It’s about being strategic, about process, about course correction and iteration.  It's about getting better at something and operating within a process and culture that values success.  It’s about teaching and learning towards an end point of success and not one of failure.  It’s about nurturing disruptive ideas, what if’s, and outrageous “yes ands” - all which involve risks and potential failure if put into play - in an environment that seeks to shift something as fearful and stagnating as risk into a strategic asset that promotes successful practice and people.

David Jakes is a recognized leader in the educational technology field, focusing on using the design process to support the organizational growth, development and change required to create relevant and meaningful conditions for student learning in schools.  David’s thought leadership includes addressing the increased need to develop agile, connected, and personalized learning environments that support a contemporary education, and how the use of technology can be re-imagined to create boundless opportunities for learning.  Before his current position as an independent consultant and as the Director of Learning Spaces with the EdTechTeam, David spent almost three decades in education as a teacher, technologist, and administrator. David's design experience includes working as a Digital Designer and Strategist for CannonDesign and The Third Teacher+, a leading architecture firm and learning space consultancy.   David is a frequent presenter at national and international educational conferences where he speaks about the power and promise of a new expedition for learning, and the roles that all educators have in shaping that journey.

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