By, Tara Frederick
Kate and I are having an amazing time co teaching our 50 incredible students this year! She and I share the same passion for teaching and learning. We have encouraged each other throughout the years to share with the world what we do best and tell our story. I am honored to blog this week and share with you my thinking about taking risks in education! One thing Kate teases me about is that my “talent” is that I will try anything. And she is right! I have been interested in creativity and the impact that creative teaching, or thinking can have on learning for some time. For me being creative or innovative is about trying new things and doing something differently….taking lots of educational risks!
One thing many people find surprising is that I have been teaching 3rd grade for 17 years. Yes, you heard correct. I know that seems to many of you like an incredibly long time in one grade level! For me, not one year has been the same as the next. It has been a 17 year journey, becoming an expert of 8 and 9 year old behavior and learning. A journey to discover the best ways that children learn and gather every amazing tool and trick along the way. Although my personality and teaching style remain the same, I am a continual risk-taker with my practice. When I learn about something that can change my students lives or the way that they learn, I am first to jump in and try!
Now don’t think for a second that I am jumping in without confidence in what I am about to start! I am committed to researching and seeking educational opportunity for my students that allows them to reach their fullest potential. I am well equipped and planned for launching a new idea! I teach my students that risk taking and failure is a part of learning, as I share with them my personal investment in our class goals. One thing that you may be wondering about is how parents in my classroom feel if I am continually risk-taking. Well, the answer for me is in the response to my communication. Parents are a part of our learning community. With a continual open line of communication, my families never feel like they are a part of a series of failed experiments, but rather a part of an incredible educational endeavor in which their children are thriving. They are well informed and I can articulate the importance behind every new initiative we take. The payoff is that I am able to meet the complex needs of all students and form relationships that support our learning at school.
How do I do it? How do I reach beyond the security of the standards and venture new places in education without feeling overwhelmed and alone? There are a few things that I would share with you that keep me excited, educated and willing to take new risks in the classroom. I do not do this alone and by all means, I am nervous every time I launch something new! Here are a few things I never forget...
Involve Your Students and Families:
Learning about my students and their families is the key to structuring our learning environment. My students are different each year, why should I approach each year the same? As my students begin living in my classroom, I refocus and change according to their needs. This may mean I need to completely redesign my classroom, change the way that reading groups are running or completely change the flow of our day. Instead of thinking that my ideas have failed I look at it as a learning experience I need to embrace. My students are guiding my teaching! Their needs and learning is taking front seat and they are taking charge of their learning!
Surround Yourself With Positive Risk-Taking Colleagues:
I have been in and out of many classrooms as a District Lead Mentor and the classrooms that stand out, have one commonality: they all take risks. Not only do the students OR teachers take risks, they take them together. Many new ideas come and go but I have made it my mission to surround myself with colleagues who inspire me to take that leap. Those who I trust will help lead to the success of my classroom. I am surrounded with amazing educators and am passionate about not re-creating, but learning from others. I educate myself through professional reading and take risks in ways that I know whole heartedly can make a difference. I continually reflect and seek advice from those trusted educators.
I’m a huge advocate for Genius Hour and student choice in the classroom. I believe inquiry-driven learning experiences and projects allow students to have a say in their learning path. I know it can be risky at first. You’ll feel like maybe you’ve abandoned the curriculum (is that such a bad thing?). You’ll feel like you’ve given up some control (is that such a bad thing either?). However, what you’ve really done is allowed the students to motivate their own learning. It’s a risk for sure….but it is one worth taking.
"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far it is possible to go." -- T.S. Eliot
I am not suggesting that you scratch that one lesson this week for a change. This is much bigger. These risks that I take aren’t really risks at all. Instead they are choices. Slowly at first…then more powerful. Do you want to keep doing things the same way with your class, or do you want to grow as a lead learner beside your students? Trust yourself as that amazing educator you are and go for it! Step out of your comfort zone and reach for greatness. I choose wisely and it has made a journey of 17 years in 3rd grade one that I will never forget.
If you want to know more about some of my risk-taking this year, check out Kate’s amazing documentation of our journey together! She has been busy blogging about the most important risks we have been taking this year. Or you can check us out at the Ohio Educational Technology Conference in February!