I am hoping that East Greenwich High School students make lots of mistakes this year. In addition, I am hoping that they also take all kinds of risks. Now before parents start dialing up the Superintendent’s office asking him to intervene, give me a chance to explain myself. You see, it is my opinion that mistakes mean you are seeking out new opportunities. You are taking a chance at a new club. You are trying out for a team or a school play. Maybe, you are even giving new subject matter a try.
As for risks, how about meeting new friends? How about getting involved with a cause or community service? Taking risks could also mean developing a different attitude towards an old problem. In my opinion mistakes often lead to discovery. Remember how Edison "failed" so often on his way to create the light bulb? In fact, he considered his "electrical" failures successes (leading him to discovery).
Risks are also another key component of growth and learning. If you do not take a shot, you will never score a basket. Adults should try as hard as they can to encourage kids to stretch their limits.
Soon moms and dads will be buying their children clothes and supplies for school. Allowing young people to risk mistakes could be their most important gift of all. At a time when risks are often discouraged, perhaps we need a paradigm shift. At a time when an over reliance on standardized testing impacts students, teachers and school districts in a negative fashion, a little panache might be in order. Adults encouraging kids to attempt new ventures and then rewarding them for doing so could lead to different pathways of success. There is more to learning than sharpening a Number 2 pencil. Let us help young people discover this.
In the early grades when a teacher asks a question many kids raise their hands hoping to be selected to answer. Aah, and sometimes those answers are precious. (Not just for accuracy, but often for their purity, creativity and enthusiasm).
Not as many hands fly up in high school. By now it is not cool. By now, some fear getting the answers wrong. Fear of being wrong can be a powerful force. What can we do to change this dynamic? Maybe encouraging mistakes and risks is a beginning. Maybe, cultivating an atmosphere where exploration of possibilities has a place, mistakes will be seen as contributions to the classroom. We need to empower our teachers with the freedom to do this more often.
I refrained from asking students grades K-8 to do as the high school students but that does not mean they cannot begin to explore some healthy risk taking as well. Perhaps, with some guidance they too can make as many mistakes as the big kids.
Sometimes our educational systems can become so formalized that even the adults have little room to try something different. We often hear how teachers are asked to teach to the test. Wouldn’t it be nice if they were allowed to balance conformity with some renewed inspiration? Wouldn’t it be nice if we would let them make a few mistakes along the way?
I will be seeing you in a couple of weeks. Enjoy the rest of your summer.