If we feel that failure is an important component of innovation, we must foster a culture of risk-taking. While many companies are constantly focusing on R&D and making numerous small (or even large) bets on innovations, fewer schools seem to be doing so. On an individual basis, many teachers are reluctant to take risks in the classroom, and this is perfectly understandable. Who wants to take risks with the education of other people's children? The stakes just seem too high, and if this is not part of a school's culture, one might be seen as reckless or irresponsible.
So how can schools foster a culture of risk-taking? Last year my school participated in a blended learning course on school innovation and sustainability led by Grant Lichtman, and course participants brainstormed and shared the following strategies:
-school leaders should model risk-taking.
-explicitly carve out time for discussions about innovation, including the need for risk and failure.
-encourage teachers to ask "what if" questions that promote big and bold ideas and possibilities; it is important not to feel like one has to have all of the answers before moving forward with an idea or initiative.
-celebrate failure; ask teachers to share the risks that they took and the failures that ensued, and then follow up with a "flame out of the month" award in a faculty meeting. This could be a fun and light-hearted way to promote risk-taking!
-emphasize that the more you fail, the more comfortable you get with it and the more willing you are to try new things.
-ask people specifically what they are afraid of and work through the issue with them. (Different people have different fears that make them risk averse.)