Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Fostering Creativity by Encouraging Risk Taking

In order to foster creativity in the classroom, I feel it is very important to create a safe environment for risk taking . As teachers we must model what it looks like to be a risk taker ourselves and then encourage our students to follow our lead. One aspect of risk taking is the willingness to make mistakes, followed with a willingness to learn from those mistakes. I often have shared with my students that if being smart was a result of learning from one's mistakes, then I must be one of the smartest people in the world! (I seem to get a LOT of thumbs-up from students on that one!)

Several years ago, a fellow colleague shared an affirmation that she recited with her students each morning, and being the good teacher that I am, I stole her idea and began reciting the following affirmation with my students:


I can be anything I want to be.
I am an important person in this world.
My attitude is the best,and I can cooperate.
I can dream dreams and make those dreams come true.
Every new day is an opportunity to improve myself.
I can take a risk; it may be difficult, but it is possible.
It is never too late for me to improve.
I will learn from my mistakes.
~Author Unknown

I would frequently share with my students that if we say something long enough, we begin to believe it, if we believe something long enough, it will become our conviction, if we have convictions long enough, they will become part of our character, and if something is part of our character long enough, it becomes part of our reputation; and it was certainly my goal that all of us, including myself, would have the reputation of being risk takers. (Okay, okay, I know this is dangerously close to brainwashing, but whatever works to encourage risk taking, works for me!)

Each time I asked my students to participate in a shared inquiry in a literature discussion, to show their thinking on a math problem using multiple representations, to provide evidence of their arguments and to recognize the validity of opposing point of views in their essays, I knew I was challenging them to be risk takers. Often the process involved making mistakes, then having to learn from those mistakes, forcing them to refine the process, and finally trying it all over again. In fact, each day a student showed up in my classroom, I respected the fact that he/she was taking a risk, trusting that although I very likely could have been making  mistakes in the process, it was always my goal to be there to guide him/her through the learning experience in a way that was meaningful and engaging to that student.

Not only do I appreciate risk taking in students, but I also appreciate teachers who are willing to take risks in their own professional journeys as well. A special thanks to all of my colleagues in the Foundations Teaching American History Grant Project who truly exemplify the words of this affirmation. I appreciate their willingness to take risks and foster their own creativity as teachers by participating in the professional development training and collaborating with each other on best practices not only in person, but also through the use of Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs and web-based presentation tools. Their insights inspire me and push my thinking. I am grateful  for the opportunity to learn from them each day.


  1. Yvonne,

    Your post is inspiring. I love the affirmation. As a matter of fact, we used to do the affirmation every morning and it really does motivate the students and become part of who they are. I have been making a lot of mistakes this year (well, we're our most critical voice,right?) with dealing with different behaviors and learning styles. I need to learn from those mistakes, see what I can do differently, and then change it!! I know that change takes time and that we need to allow that time for ourselves to grow. Thank you for the post!!

  2. Yvonne and Robin,
    I love the affirmation too! I have a poster hanging in my classroom that is very similarly to Yvonne's version of how thoughts eventually become reality. There are many self-help type philosophies that have become popular over the years that promote positive affirmations becoming your destination as well, such as "The Secret". I love how this applies to all aspects of life, work, personal, etc.
    As teachers I feel most of us naturally take risks because we want to better the world, one child at a time. We have to take each little person from where they are to their next phase of life. Since each one comes with their own instructions, it is risky trying to create a plan to get them to the next stage, while at the fifth grade level keeping them motivated on their own success.
    I appreciate that you acknowledged the technology risk. Technology is such a wonderful tool, but a challenge when learning new programs. I wish I had the time to take more risks and make more mistakes with it. With each new accomplishment, I feel more and more competent and appreciate the benefit of an easier future.