Fostering a Culture of Risk-taking

Innovation requires risk-taking. How can we foster a culture of risk-taking in schools, which are extremely risk-averse institutions?

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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.)


Join the conversation:

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Hi Bob! How are you? I think you are onto the start of a great idea here and the comments below have really started to help frame it out in more detail. We would love for you to share it in the ideate phase.

A couple of questions that might help frame out this idea:

What’s this idea about?
Why is this an idea that creates a culture of innovation?
How would you pitch this to other teachers in your school? Your principal?
How’d you get this idea off the ground?

Please don't hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or want to talk the idea out in more detail!

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