Living cautiously

It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default. – J.K. Rowling

A child walks into your school or classroom. They stare at the floor as they walk and talk to a few friends as they hurry by. A stop at a locker, a check of a schedule or a classroom number and they disappear into the swell of students not wanting to be late. Seated in a classroom, they want to be left alone, and will be compliant with any rule or expectation the instructor sets forth. All too often, these kids are left alone with so many others demanding constant attention from the teacher.

They live their school lives (and possibly their entire lives) cautiously. They aren’t natural risk takers and don’t want anyone to push or pull them in a new direction.

I was this child. As an adult I have regret about living this cautiously in my youth and early adulthood. I don’t mean that I should have been overtly defiant or out of control, but I know I didn’t take enough risks in school to maximize my learning. I followed all the rules, accumulated the proper amount of points, and moved right along through the years. I didn’t really start taking risks with my learning until I was several years into my teaching career. I am so glad of where I am now, but I realize what I missed out on.

Last year, I had a discussion with my students about risk taking. These were 9th graders, 14 or 15 years old. I asked the question, “Is risk taking essential to learning?” The response was interesting and varied, but by the end of the discussion my classes agreed that it was important. I could tell that this bothered some of my kids. Frankly, it would have bothered me as a student. These types of students need a lot of support to take risks. Modeling, positive reinforcement, and assurance that time will be given to master learning targets are the name of the game rather than the older style ‘game of school’.

This may seem difficult, but as we well know, teaching is difficult work. Quiet compliant students are so easy to manage that they often slip through the cracks. Give these students what they need just as much as the ones who fill the room with noise, movement, and endless stories of what they did last night. You will be doing them a huge favor…teaching them how to learn fearlessly.

One thought on “Living cautiously

  1. It is a delicate balancing act to meet the needs of students that fit this profile that I can all to well relate to myself. Providing those safe spaces to diminish fear of failure is critical and probably on a continuum. The first step is to focus on non-public ways to challenge this mindset followed by increasing opportunities to visibly take risks in the company of peers with the oversight and support of the teacher.

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