Taking the Plunge

If we are doing our jobs, our students are taking risks every day.  If we are doing our jobs well, our students are feeling supported and encouraged to move beyond their comfort zones--understanding that being open to the possibility of failure, innovation, and learning is preferable to a life of closed off "safety".  The question I'm asking today is, How are you embracing risk-taking as an educational professional?  We may ask our students to push and trust themselves, but I argue that it is just as essential for us to do that as teachers.

As I facilitated a workshop at the NCTE Whole Language Umbrella "Literacies for All" summer institute last weekend (Teachers, Students, and Families Together: Nurturing Literate Communities), my colleague* and I asked the participants to move beyond their expectations, beyond their comfort zones, for three hours with a group of folks they really did not know.  When one attends a conference, one expects to spend a lot of time sitting, absorbing, note-taking...hopefully discussing and forming new connections as well.  One does not, however, generally expect to be asked to learn how to hold a space-object drink, yell out math problems, and declare "Woo hoo!" in front of a group of educators from around the country.  It is my firm belief that it makes little sense to simply talk about improv; we must participate in the playing of improvisational theatre games to understand their impact.  To know how to debrief and process improv activities, we must understand how the work (and play) affects us on a personal level--from the inside.  Thankfully, all of the session's participants were up for the journey.  We left the workshop feeling connected; each of us had something new to take away.  And, hey, we knew everyone else's name!

Last week, I took the plunge in an entirely new way.  Joining the club of countless colleagues who are up for risk and adventure, I switched grade levels: moving from my 7/8 classroom to the land of K/1. As I now prepare for Back to School Night, work out options for centers, and download tons of children's music, I am full of that familiar mix of excitement and fear, of enthusiasm and anxiety.  This is a good sign.  Just as I feel that tightening of my stomach backstage right before a show, I experience a daily moment (or two or seventeen) of uncertainty...and this is a healthy place to be professionally.  Keep me away from the comfort of complacency; bring on the challenge of something new.

Whether you are taking a risk by jumping into a new grade level, attending a conference, trying out a new lesson, or leading a club, it may feel awkward as you begin.  However, as we keep ourselves steeped in the vitality of change and the evolution of ourselves as professionals, I'm here to say that this feeling of awkwardness is absolutely worth it.  When faced with an opportunity...say yes.

*Thank you, Sierra Bradley of Santa Rosa Charter School for the Arts, for your fabulous work as my co-presenter at NCTE's WLU conference.