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Thursday, November 6, 2014

An Example of Taking a Risk in Education -

One of the things I constantly encourage my teachers to do is take a risk in the name of student success. I even changed my blog address from the very long-winded “LessonsInLearningWithRyanSteele” to “RiskToLearn” – but then I have to ask myself, what does taking a risk even mean?

So, I am going to go with a very overarching broad brush stroke method to answer this: Taking a risk in education means you are doing something you are not 100 percent sure is going to work, but you know it would benefit your students. EVEN if it is out of our comfort zone. Here is an example from a friend in Atlanta:

My friend was at his wits end, his ninth grade history class was unruly, and despite all the detentions and referrals to the office, his students just didn’t want to behave. He wanted to put his students into six groups, but even when divided by six, he couldn’t find a combination of students that would work well together. In a class that started out as 36, four students had already been expelled for using weapons on campus, and three others dropped out of school by the start of the second semester. This left him with 29 students, 29 students who loved to fight, swear, argue, and ignore anything, and everything, he had to say.

The easy solution was to give up, to sit in the front of the room, let his kids do what they wanted until the bell rang, it’s not like his administrators were checking up on him anyway…The standardized test scores didn’t matter, no one expected his kids to pass, so it would be so easy to sit back and just give up. However, that was not his style, he just couldn’t give up, but what he could do didn’t seem to matter. So like all good teachers, he took a risk, and came to school three weeks later with a new plan in place.

His students waltzed into class, tardy as usual, only to find a note on the whiteboard that said the following: “Please join me on the football field, Mrs. Erickson is waiting in the hallway to escort you personally." Each student groaned and sighed, yet had some interest in this sudden change of environment. They marched outside, only to stop in awe as they saw their teacher standing in the middle of 30 manikins, borrowed from his local department store, covered in washable red paint and old clothes he bought from the Salvation Army.

“Welcome to the Revolutionary War! You just came home to find 30 of your closest friends and family killed by the British army! What are you doing to do?” he shouted.

“Kill them!” said Cain, a typically quiet student.

“How are you going to do that Cain? They are thousands of them, and only 29 of you…” “I don’t care, I could take them!” replied Cain.

“Really? Look around.”

My friend raised a starter pistol and fired one shot. From behind the bleachers came nearly 100 parents, volunteers from his wife’s workplace, and the school’s three administrators. “Cain, how can you take this many people all with guns pointing at you? How can you win a war when you are this outnumbered?”

My friend then went into detail about the use of gorilla warfare. He brought out dozens of large boxes he received from numerous stores, and used them as trees and rocks in order to have the students physically get into hiding positions. While the students where hiding, the parents and volunteers marched across the field in the same style of the British solders, only to find they were not able to see the students.

This was a magical day. Not because his students were great from that day forward, because they weren’t. Not because he build a bridge between some parents and the school, which he did. Not because he gained positive praise from his administrative team, which he also did. For my friend, this day was magical because from that day forward his students paid more attention, and bought into a subject they didn’t seem to care about just the day before. It was hard work, took time and planning, but at the end of the year, his students still were talking about the day their teacher killed 30 manikins in order to teach a lesson.

We get one opportunity to make a difference – but that difference can be huge, gigantic, immeasurable, life-changing, earth-shattering, amazing…

Taking risks just might help make that amazing difference in a child’s life.


  1. The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. You don't know until you reach the end yet once there, it will be immeasurable and memorable. You chance to risk.

  2. Out of the comfort zone, that's where the magic happens! Thanks for sharing an awesome story!