Why Risk is Scary

I have written a couple of posts lately on risk-taking being an essential component of change in a system. Much of this stems from the risks that I have taken this year (and also from of the ones I have not taken). Each time I write or talk about risk taking, I wonder why more teachers do not take the plunge into trying to change a habit.

The answer, I think, is that relationships are required, and that introduces the possibility of failure. When we are isolated from others, the possibility of failure is eliminated.

Allow me to elaborate.

Say you are planning a date for that certain someone. This is not a normal date...you want to surprise them. You have two choices:

  1. Do something you have both enjoyed in the past.
  2. Try something new.

Option 1 is safe. We have prior experience with the activity and the outcome, and we know that while it may not be as exciting, it is predictable and therefore, comfortable. Option 2, on the other hand, requires significant risk. Your date could be amazing, or it could flop completely and end in total failure. The reason this choice matters is because of the relationship that is involved in the choice.

Conversely, if you were trying to decide what to do alone, there is no risk of failure because there is no relationship associated with your choice. You can do something you have done before, or you can try something new. There is no one to let down if it does not work out the way you imagined.

Schools are exactly the same way. We have done things the same way for so long because they are predictable and "safe." We continue to carry out routines that have been established since the early 1900's. Unfortunately, there are so many relationships at stake with risk-taking in schools that we often shrug our idea off for the "If only I could..." file that gathers dust in our imaginations.

While taking a risk is hindered because of relationships, it also works the other way. Risks taken in relationship with others can be extremely rewarding, even in failure. Work with a PLC in your building or collaborate with others across the globe. There are people just like you trying to do the same thing, many of them reaching for support.

As a disclaimer, I do recognize that many people are not in a position to even attempt small, calculated change because of school climate, oversight, or other reasons. I am not advocating that we begin jumping off cliffs in the near future. What I am suggesting is that we begin to identify what relationship we are afraid of damaging to then take preventative steps to make sure it stays strong in success as well as failure. This often requires compromise and collaboration, which takes time to build. Keep the collaboration local if you can and work toward improving your community at the same time. Encourage administrators or parents to join you in your ideas.

If you find yourself as an island in school, look to Twitter for help and community. I want to encourage you to make sure you have a group of people, digital connections or in your school, that you can turn to when things get difficult.

Do not let relationships scare you out of taking a risk that will improve your teaching. Use your relationships as a support network to move forward.


In an attempt to build community, I would ask that you use #Edrisk to share your stories, successes, and failures. Let's learn together in this.

One thought on “Why Risk is Scary

  1. Brett Clark says:

    Great insight on the issue of risk taking. In thinking about the first senario you talked about, I think the key thing you bring out about that relationship is that one person in the relationship wanted to surprise the other. As a husband, I can tell you, this does not go well very often. That is why I feel like it is best to always discuss the idea with the other person in the relationship before trying something new.

    However, that’s the point you are making, we don’t always have a strong enough relationship to bring up the new. How many of us can walk into our principal’s office and say, “I want to abolish grades.” “I am going to stop giving homework.” “I’m not going to give any test this grading period.”

    Unfortunately, many of us still live by the phrase, “it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.” How sad of a state is that? How sad is it that we can’t sit down as professionals and discuss the pros and cons of the new?

    The question is, how do we form those relationships within our buildings and our community? More and more I am ready to start having those difficult discussions about what we can do to fix our schools. This work is not easy and fixing what we do will take time. Risk will have to be taken and failure will occur but so will success.

    Here’s to forming better relationships between all of those involved in educating our students!

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