Taking Risks-Educationally Speaking

In this first blog post, I’m challenging educators to take risks.  In life, I am not always a risk taker.  I mean, I don’t jump out of perfectly good airplanes for fun, or swim with sharks on purpose, or even handle poisonous snakes. But when it comes to finding new ways to help my students understand concepts, explore their own creativity, make connections, or engage in my content in deeper and more meaningful ways, then I take risks. I’m a risk taker. I see new strategies, websites, programs, or technologies, and I contemplate how that would help my students. I think about how the “something new” could enhance the learning my students experience in my classroom, and then I take risks.

I get this drive from my late father, David Ingalls. He was an outstanding educator, administrator, father, and mentor.  He had that special gift for seeing almost immediately how things could be applied in his classroom, building, or district.  As it happens, Dad began his Missouri teaching career in the same school district where I am currently employed. In fact, his former classroom is just around the corner from my current classroom and both are down a long hallway from the entrance to the high school building. It was down this hallway that my dad trudged weekly, and sometimes daily, with his VCR n the early 1980’s. It was big and bulky compared to our DVD and Blue Ray players today, and the hallway was and is long.

This is the actual hallway Dad walked down with his VCR, though the picture is recent. His room was all the way to the end and then around the corner.

He was the first teacher in his district to use a VCR in the classroom. In fact, he was the first teacher in the district to bring one to school period.  You see, Dad taught history, and when the TV miniseries, The Blue and the Gray, began airing promotional commercials, my dad saw how he could get students interested in the Civil War, the problems our nation faced then, and the struggles of individual families. He saw how he could make it real for his students. So Dad purchased a VCR for around $700, and then he bought blank VCR tapes to record the series off of the television.  The blank VCR tapes cost around $20 each at the time. Dad was not rich, and he worked in a rural school district, but he could see how using this tool in his classroom could transform how his students viewed the Civil War, so he took a risk. He had to explain to his administrators how this would be a good thing for his students. My dad had to fight for something we educators take for granted in our classroom today. He had to blaze the trail. He rocked the boat.

I’m not advocating that we all run to the stores to find the “latest and greatest” tool out there and spend just under $1000 (or way over).  I would love (love, love, love, love) to have a 4K SMART board in my classroom, but I don’t have to spend that kind of money in order to take risks for my students, and I’m not asking you all to do that either. We don’t have to spend a lot of money to blaze new trails today. We can be innovative in cheap and/or low tech ways by finding more creative ways to use in our lessons what we already have at our fingertips. But I am challenging you to take a risk. If you struggle to see how to apply a new strategy or tool in your daily lessons, ask that one teacher in your building or district who seems to have that same knack my dad had. Attend workshops, conferences, or get online and see what other teachers are doing that is new to you, and then find a way to try it in your classroom. Don’t be afraid to let your students help you learn a new technology. Don’t be afraid to try.  And finally, don’t put the process or product ahead of your students. Keep what’s best for your students at the forefront of your mind as you consider taking a risk.

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