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Risk Taking in the Classroom

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Mark Sauverwald

on 10 October 2013

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Transcript of Risk Taking in the Classroom

Communities are formed within the relationships of a group of people that are related to each other in common values, similar viewpoints or even proximity to one another (Charvis and Wandersman, 1990). There are three characteristics that bind communities together: values, norms and traditions (McKay, 2013).

1. Values
Values are important to community development, determining the goals and end results that benefit all members of the community.

2. Norms
Acting within these goals creates a set of norms that the community identifies with.

3. Traditions
Values and norms are reinforced via traditions, allowing community members to demonstrate these principles through actions. Together, the values, norms and tradition’s create the culture of a community.
How do we create a safe environment that promotes risk taking in the classroom?
Why does risk taking matter?
Creating community and a safe environment in the classroom is important in order to allow students to feel safe to take risks. This may be so but why does risk taking make the classroom a better place to learn? Creativity and authenticity is what appears in a classroom full of risk takers. For example, in an article by David Rufo, in which he gave students more freedom when making art in school, it is revealed in a real world situation how risk taking effects the classroom. Students’ minds can come up with much more unique and innovative ways to do things compared to classrooms where they are simply follow instructions, or even just the norm when risk taking is encouraged. Rufo explains that, “...as he started to allow students to take a greater role in their education, he was amazed at the amount of meaningful insight that began to occur in the classroom”, (Rufo, 2011).

Not only are the students going to be more innovative when risk taking is encouraged but they will also create work that is more meaningful and authentic to them. Therefore, risk taking is imperative for students to reach their unique potentials and to have a more passionate and authentic experience in school.
Below are resources filled with ideas and examples of how risk taking can effect students’ learning in profoundly positive ways.

Cowhey, Mary. Black Ants and Buddhists. 2006; Portland, Maine.

Rufo, David. Allowing "Artistic Agency" in the Elementary Classroom
Art Education May/2011, Volume 64, Issue 3, pp. 18 – 23.


How do we create a safe environment for learning?
Why do we need safe environments?
Encouraging children to take calculated risks is essential to achieving the major outcomes outlined in Alberta Education’s “Inspiring Action on Education” report.
• Becoming an engaged thinker requires critical thinking and problem solving skills. In order to think critically and challenge the common view requires courage on the part of the student, as the student does not know how the teacher or class will react to an alternative viewpoint.
• An entrepreneurial spirit encompasses aspects of leadership, innovations, discipline, and many other traits. One common trait that entrepreneurs possess is an increased tolerance of risk. A student who demonstrates leadership capabilities and a capacity of innovation feels safe taking risks.
• Being a truly ethical citizen requires more than just following rules of the society. An ethical citizen questions what being ethical entails, and whether or not some of the tenants of society are ethical. The ability to speak up against system injustice is a huge risk for the individual, but also a critical step in social change.

Alberta Education. (2010). Inspiring Action on Education. Government of Alberta.

Other Resources and Lesson Plans

What is community?
4 ideas to encourage risk taking in your classroom: http://www.reedgillespie.blogspot.ca/2013/03/creating-risk-taking-classroom.html
Teaching tolerance to elementary students to help foster a supportive community in your classroom: http://oneworldoneheartbeating.com/for_teachers/creating-community/
Using technology to foster new relationships and build teamwork in your classroom and school: http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/top-teaching/2013/09/getting-know-our-community
"Inspiring a passionate commitment to learning" (inquiry projects, classroom examples; ie: math fairs). Authentic and interdisciplinary learning that invites community involvement : http://galileo.org
rubric for inquiry: http://galileo.org/rubric.pdf
The classroom: a community of learners. "It is important to understand the impact of the classroom’s physical environment on learning and take steps to create a safe, welcoming, engaging and respectful atmosphere". This link helps us to understand the connections between the emotional environment and self-concept and learning success, and take steps to create a strong sense of community among students: http://education.alberta.ca/teachers/resources/cross/ourwordsourways.aspx
Creating classrooms that are safe and affirming for everyone: http://www.safeclassrooms.org/resources
Books for big ideas! http://applewithmanyseedsdoucette.blogspot.ca
The culture within a community is defined by the interaction of a groups values, norms and traditions. The culture within a community will be formed through the interactions among a community's members and through the actions of the members. If a certain culture is not formed intentionally within a community, a culture will be implicitly defined (McKay, 2013). If negative values and norms are defined within a community there will also be a negative culture formation.

It is important to understand how culture is formed within a group of people so that culture can be used as an advantage. Forming a positive culture is important for collaboration, empowerment and engagement within the community.
Building Community
Communities are brought together when given the opportunity to accomplish a task or solve a problem together. The members of the community have chances to exercise their similar values to meet a common goal and this creates the feeling of support among the community. Facing adversity together in a community creates a bond that increases empowerment within its community members by offering a supportive space for risk taking (Lynne and Douglas 2006).
Chavis, D., Wandersman, A. (1990). Sense of community in the urban environment: a catalyst for participation and community development. American Journal of Community Psychology 18(1). Pp. 55-81

McKay, B. and McKay, K. (2013). Fathering with Intentionality: The Importance of Creating a Family Culture. Retrieved from: http://www.artofmanliness.com/2013/07/22/family-culture/
Recently, Alberta Education framed a new Education Legislation around a more inclusive classroom that engages critical thinking while giving students success and fulfillment in their learning. The Legislation details that it will meet this vision through three major objectives and by developing seven core competencies in 21st century learners. However, in order for teachers to develop these competencies in their students, they will need to break their students out of the traditional mold of schooling. Schools and teachers will need to shift towards a student-centered model of education where students become responsible for their own independent and interdependent learning. Furthermore, students will need to feel safe enough to step outside their comfort zone and take risks to deepen their learning. The safety required to encourage risk taking comes from a strong classroom community with a positive and supportive culture. If there is not a positive and supportive culture, then the student’s will not be able to adequately meet the objectives outlined by Alberta Education.
The core compentencies that are outlined by Alberta Education completely change the stereotype of a classroom. Students are encouraged to explore, ask questions, and find their own answers. As a result of these new goals student’s need to feel safe in their classroom environment, so that they are able to make mistakes. This also helps foster an inclusive classroom as students with disabilities, and gifted students are better able to work together to come to a common goal. This inquiry project demonstrates what is important in building a community, and how to encourage risk taking in the classroom. It also provides a variety of resources for fostering community.

McKay, B. and McKay, K. (2013). Fathering with Intentionality: The Importance of Creating a Family Culture. Retrieved from: http://www.artofmanliness.com/2013/07/22/family-culture/
Manzo, L., and Perkins, D. (2006). Finding common ground: the importance of place attachment to community participation and planning. Journal of Planning Liturature, 20(4). Pp. 335-350.
Creating a positive classroom environment is vital to encouraging risk-taking in the classroom. Students will not be inclined to take risks if they feel they will be punished for failure, or make to feel embarrassed when they try. Creating a safe classroom environment is not only about the relationship between the teacher and students, but between the individual students. As Johnson Smith (2005) states in her article “Creating a Safe Space for Students to Take Academic Risk: “Just because your students trust you doesn’t mean they are going to trust anyone else in your classroom. And to truly grow, they are going to need to take emotional and intellectual risks in front that group.”

Barrett (2010) summarizes safe spaces in the following passage:
Accounts of safe space typically centre on the need to move beyond
a construction of students as individuals but as members of a classroom community. Second, the physical classroom comes to symbolize the desired social connection among students, providing the basis for both a physical and metaphorical community of learners. Third, the safe space is constructed as a comfortable space through which to break down the isolation of individual students and allow them to express their individuality. Finally, safe space is deemed to promote enhanced student performance and outcomes. (p.2.)
Barrett goes on to say that safe space “...is a common colloquialism in higher education, [though] formal examinations of its meaning and consequences remain rare (p.1). She also argues that safety may not be achievable for and by all students and that civility may be a better goal (p.9). I would argue that a “safe environment” for learning incorporates the philosophy of safe spaces while acknowledging that the most we may achieve are safer spaces, incorporating the values of civility, community and respect.
So how does a teacher promote safe environments for learning? Ideas cover a wide range, depending on whose writing you read and how they define their terms.

Alber (2011) provides a list of 20 tips to create a safe learning environment that includes continuing community-building activities throughout the year, establishing non-negotiables, modeling kindness and patience and smiling often. Although these tips help to build a positive relationship between the students and teacher, they don’t address the student-student relationship.

Below are excerpts from several writers, and we recommend viewing their writings for further information:

“A major component of a respectful classroom is the development of relationships. Teachers are models for developing relationships. Students observe teachers to see how they negotiate the social and moral environment. The models set by adults in the classroom and external to the classroom play a very large role on the development of the respectful classroom” - Miller & Pedro (2006).

“Finally, make it clear that effort will lead to improvement. Your applause for the participation is sincere, but so is your belief that they can do better — that they can achieve mastery of the material. You will be there to encourage, guide and help them recover from missteps. You will also be there to help them celebrate the accomplishments born of their courage and work.”
- Johnson Smith (2005).

"Teachers can create an atmosphere of respect by endorsing the learners' level of knowledge and gaps in knowledge as essential triggers to learning rather than reasons for ridicule." - Hutchinson (2003).

"Remembering names and involving the learners in setting ground rules are other examples of building mutual trust. Feedback on performance, a vital part of teaching, should be done constructively and with respect for the learner." - Hutchinson (2003).
Literature Cited:

Alber, R. (2011). Twenty Tips for Creating a Safe Learning Environment. Retrieved from: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/20-tips-create-safe-learning-environment-rebecca-alber

Barrett, B. J. (2010). Is "Safety" Dangerous? A Critical Examination of the Classroom as Safe Space. The Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 1(1), article 9. doi: .
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5206/cjsotl-rcacea.2010.1.9

Hutchinson, L. (2003). Educational Environment. BMJ, 326(7393), 810–812.

Johnson Smith, K. (2005). Creating a safe space for students to take academic risks. Retrieved from: http://www.learnnc.org/lp/editions/firstyear/258

Miller, R. and Pedro, J. (2006). Creating Respectful Classroom Environments. Early Childhood Education Journal, 33(5), pp. 293-299.
Alberta Education: New Legislation Vision

To inspire and enable students to achieve success and fulfillment as engaged thinkers and ethical citizens with an entrepreneurial spirit within an inclusive education system.

Alberta Education's Core Competencies for 21st Century Learners
Building Community in Calgary:
Turn off your TV
Leave your house
Know your neighbours
Look up when you're walking & smile!
Greet people
Plant flowers
Use your library
Play together
Support neighborhood schools
Fix it, even if you didn't break it.
Have pot-lucks
Talk to the mail carrier
Help carry something heavy
Barter for goods and services
Start a tradition
Ask a question
Hire young people for odd jobs
Organize a block party
Bake extra & share
Ask for help when you need it
Open your shades
Turn up the music
Turn down the music
Listen before you react to anger
Mediate a conflict
Seek to understand
Learn from new and uncomfortable experiences
Know that no-one is silent, though many are not heard
Work to change this
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