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Notable Notes: Risk

Notable Notes: Risk

Written by Deanna Mascle
October 16, 2015

When I originally posted this Notable Notes on my web site I included this quote from @bradmcurrie Tweeted by @justintarte. It is worth following Justin just for the great quotes he shares although he has much more to offer as well. One of the great tragedies of our current educational climate is that so many involved are risk-adverse, but not everyone and I keep hoping the pendulum is swinging. As anyone who has studied educational history knows, the pendulum always swings and this too shall pass. This collection of notable notes celebrate risk.

My first note is by @Vanessa_LaLoba and appears on The Huffington Post blog. Her piece “Writers of Color: Your Voice Matters” is one that I continue to feel deep. It is an aching in my bones and a twisting in my gut. I shared this piece more than once via social media because so many others seem to react as I did, but I hesitated to write about it because I didn’t want to sound condescending or fall into a white privilege trap. I cannot know all the places that she writes from. I can never know them because I am a middle class white woman. But I can see ripples connecting some of her stories to my experience as a woman and as a teacher as well as to the experience of my rural Appalachian students. I too have had people try to strip me of my voice. My students have had people try to strip them of their voice. It is one of my biggest challenges – helping my students rediscover their voice beneath the scar tissue acquired through years of formal schooling. I cannot help but think about the damage of teaching only on-demand writing in our K-12 classrooms when I read lines like this one: “It is through language that we find and make meaning of the world.” But as this blog post argues: voice matters. It matters when we write and it matters when we live. “Language isn’t just how we communicate, it’s how we identify ourselves, it’s how we tell the world, “I am here and I matter.” Voice matters and we need to help our students and our colleagues find their voices.

My second note also relates to voice but in a much different way (maybe).  In “Risky Teacher: To Tweet?,” @lauriedroberts  talks about taking risks in the classroom. She specifically talks about taking Socratic seminars to the next level by using Twitter, but I was particularly taken by her invitation to administrators and peers to watch her experiment in real time. She chose a very apt title for her blog post on the National Writing Project Digital Is, because all three moves were very risky business. It is always risky to give our students voice and power in the classroom, because we can no longer control what happens. It is always risky to broadcast that voice beyond our classroom, because we can no longer control what happens. It is always risky to invite others into our classroom, because we can no longer control what happens. There is the risk of misunderstanding. There is a risk of failure. There is a risk of success. What if your students grow to like having a voice and use it when we, or worse the powers that be, would rather they not? What if those same powers question the suppression or tamping down of your voice in favor of your students’ voices? After all, you are being paid to teach (they might argue) and too many believe that learning only takes place to the sound of the voice of authority. Never mind that the “authority” they prefer is not really yours. Yes, giving voice is risky business indeed.

My third note is from one of my favorite blogs, Two Writing Teachers. The post was written by @BethMooreTCRWP and shares an important writing tip which she gleaned from her parenting experience. In “Just Try It,” she advocates for taking risks and giving things a try just for the sake of adventure. “Just try it” gives writers the opportunity to take small, safe risks that may well lead to bigger risks later on. While bigger risks might lead to failure (they are risks after all), safe writing and safe learning and safe teaching will never lead to big success. At least that’s what I believe.

I know that not all teachers are in a place where they can take risks (see quote above). I know some teachers are required to use scripts. I know some teachers have to teach in lock-step with their peers. I know some teachers are in buildings or districts where taking risks is forbidden. These are the times we live in. But if you can, I urge you to take risks – at least some of the time. This is why I wrote “3 reasons why you should practice metateaching” because metateaching is very risky behavior and metalearning requires classes where risks are regularly taken because they are a safe zone to try and to give voice.

Do you think teachers should take and encourage risks in their classrooms? How risky is it to make our voices and our students’ voices heard? What are the advantages and disadvantages of a “just try it” philosophy?

Read more “Notable Notes” about teaching, writing, and teaching writing on my Metawriting blog at: