As a digital learning coach, my goal is to encourage educators to reach outside their comfort zone and innovate their instruction through the use of educational technology. it sounds good, but it’s a very tall order, particularly in our post-pandemic learning landscapes where “back to normal” has become a priority among families and administrators.
Let’s reframe the notion of risk vs. reward to instead consider risk creating reward. This shift requires a special set of circumstances if we are serious about asking teachers to reach beyond their current capacity, interest, or understanding.
Let’s unpack RISK as the intersection of Readiness, Intrinsic Motivation, Safety, and Knowledge.
Just like anyone else, teachers require a particular comfort-level in order to reach beyond their comfort zone. A current challenge is that most educators have been well outside of their comfort zone for the past fews years, reporting that last year was the most challenging yet. Risk taking only works when educators feel prepared, motivated, supported, and ready to try something new. They can be made to deploy new approaches, or cover new curriculum, but that separates risk-taking from rule-following.
When it matters to a teacher, the most amazing things can happen. Risk-taking increases when the goals, topics, or initiatives carry personal meaning or interest for a teacher. A teacher’s passion or personal motivation raises the stakes for instructional success, and carries emotional investment.
Educators will not take risks, make themselves vulnerable, or challenge the status quo if there isn’t a psychological safety net to support them, or if they feel as though it will jeopardize their job. The culture of the teaching and learning environment, and the support of leadership, set the tone that either encourages or discourages risk-taking. It’s not that complex, and it shouldn’t be surprising, and yet culture-driven initiatives or innovative messaging are often overshadowed by curriculum demands, ongoing assessment, and instructional time-constraints.
Educators are used to being the experts, content-masters, and the disseminators of knowledge, but taking risks requires flexibility and adaptability if things don’t go as planned. Teachers need to rely upon their knowledge and craft as educators to maintain instructional objectives and keep their focus on student-learning without getting distracted by the application of innovative tools or products.
Now let’s unpack the Reward of RISK as Resilience, Investment, Support, and Know-how
Educators who find success through risk-taking increase their likelihood of continued risk taking and innovation, while modeling a pathway to inspire colleagues. Even those who may not achieve all of their objectives strengthen their resilience through reflection and evaluation of their process.
Risk-taking yields personal investment when interest or passion projects turn from ideas to action. Where the intrinsic motivation helps teachers take the plunge with zeal, the payoff is in the developing product that carries emotional attachment.
Success yields repetition, and a district that recognizes instructional innovation or success automatically builds a support system that will encourage further risk-taking.
Aspiring teachers aren’t necessarily trained to take risks, embark on innovation, or “think outside the box.” When an educator takes a successful risk, and their efforts are recognized, they create a pathway for others to follow, clearing a runway for increased risk-taking as a priority within their instructional culture.
Teachers can get caught in some deep ruts, but we need to acknowledge that while these ruts may sometimes work well, they can also reinforce inefficiency or even bad habits. Integrating new initiatives or innovation can threaten carefully crafted structures or long-standing traditions, and feel isolating enough that many choose not to drift outside the lines. There can be a vulnerability when straying from a prescribed lesson plan or unit of study to extend thinking, capitalize on an unexpected opportunity, or just try an innovative strategy discovered on Twitter, but successful risk-takers don't let that risk outweigh the reward.
When teachers combine readiness, intrinsic motivation, safety, and knowledge to embark upon meaningful risk, they build (in themselves and in their buildings) resilience, investment, support, and know-how.
Risk Creates Reward!