It is widely known that “it is human nature to read the actions of others, and then to follow suit.” Simply put – it is easier to follow the norm, because it is always safe and sure. On the flip side, success stories like Apple and IKEA were not created by following the norm. Each of these successful global companies took the risk to be different; Apple with the revolutionary iPhone and IKEA with unassembled furniture. Individuals in each of these companies had the courage and confidence to make the leap, taking the risks to attempt a different path to come up with something revolutionary.
In the International Baccalaureate (IB) environment, risk-taking is one of the ten IB Learner Profiles and IB students are encouraged and guided to be confident in taking risks. This is not about the act of doing something rash, but about building the confidence to courageously get out of one’s comfort zone to face challenges, and not let the fear of failure hinder. Students are similarly encouraged to be confident about the decisions, choices and actions that they adopt. To do this, they are guided to explore new, innovative ideas and strategies and challenge their ‘old’ ways of thinking. It is when students try new experiences that they then get to learn new things and discover strengths that they never knew they had. Doing the same old activity does not allow such discovery opportunities. With this, critical thinking and self- management skills are harnessed at the same time. Students weigh the pros and cons of information that they have gathered and analysed critically. They develop the ability to keep calm, stay organised and think outside the box and adapt, no matter how unsure or difficult the situation is.
At ISS International School (ISS), our students are similarly guided to build this risk-taking skill and to explore new ideas and innovative strategies. They are challenged to think and encouraged to be confident in the decisions they make and take. The difference lies in the safe environment that our teachers create in class. “A safe environment is about ensuring that our students are encouraged to take risks, equipped with a certain level of preparedness. It is not about taking risks in an ill-informed/ill-prepared manner, because that would be risky, not risk taking,” shares Michael, our Middle School Principal, “it is about equipping them with certain core skills such as inquiry, research, communication, action, reflection, organisation; outcomes that are part of our Approaches to Learning, which transcend across all the subject areas taught. These are the springboards to developing risk-taking skills”, adds Michael.
A safe environment is also about a place where the students are not afraid to make mistakes! Minaal, our Scientific & Mathematical Literacy coordinator and elementary school teacher further shares this, “risk taking is a big part of my classroom and when it is appropriate, my students can choose activities that center around the same outcome but are at different levels of difficulty. For risk taking to come naturally to my students, I ensure that my students are not afraid to try new things, make mistakes and learn from it. I typically make a determined effort to acknowledge the fear and understand why there is negativity towards attempting a certain task. One of my students found mathematics scary and felt that the task which I had assigned was just too difficult to do. It was important for me not to downplay my students’ fear. Instead, I acknowledged it and we talked about what the fear was. ‘Math can be very scary!’ I said to her, ‘especially if we’re working on questions we don’t know how to solve.’ We talked about how new things can be scary because they’re new but we need new things so that we can learn. By the end of the lesson, my student successfully completed the math task (after some initial support) and the next day when we began a new task, I overheard this student telling other classmates that, ‘I can do the work now.”
What this example shows is that it is not just about the safe environment that is created, but that this is coupled with ISS’s fundamentals of academic delivery; creating an empowering environment where our students are encouraged to develop and pursue their own sense of purpose; guiding and nurturing our students as they make this journey of self-discovery; ensuring inclusivity where everyone has an opportunity to express their viewpoints; and delivering each lesson in a highly individualised and customised style to ensure that each student learns at their own pace and benefits fully from the learning.
Michael, our Middle School Principal continues with this thought. Four things are important components to develop this risk-taking skill :
(a) ensuring open and positive communication, so that the environment is non-threatening,
(b) welcoming feedback with a positive attitude and approach,
(c) a reasonable level of organisation so that boundaries are known, and
(d) doing so in a fun environment with a human touch
This is also his mantra with his faculty, “create this environment in your learning spaces with the students and always show them support. This will ensure that our students not only develop risk-taking skills but will develop to become strong global citizens. This was the kind of environment that I was fortunate enough to grow up in – at school, university and in the home front. It worked.”
“I give full credit to the School’s Head and teachers for instilling in my children a level of responsibility and self-assurance which increases as they progress through the ranks – from subtly giving them small individual tasks to work on at the age of 4 to take on more complex research topics at the age of 13. I certainly do see my children grow as risk takers,” shares Karen a very proud mother whose children have been studying at ISS for the past 8 years. “The key thing that stands out (for me) is their ability to speak in public before a large audience with confidence, clarity, and pride. Once upon a time, I could not say with certainty that they were as good as they are now. I will always remember an event almost 2 years ago when my eldest child participated, with numerous others in an oratory recital which parents were invited to attend. He was the last to go up on stage and before that, his wait was agonising. After his recital, Nicola Zulu, the High School Principal said to him ‘I could listen to you all day.’ It was a mother’s pride in looking at how far her son has come.”
Our alumna, Mhairie-Claire who is now studying at Osaka University in Japan, thanks to the teachers at ISS for their guidance. “If not for my teachers’ encouragement to challenge myself and consider doing things differently from the norm, I would never have considered studying in a country where I did not speak the language and where I was not completely familiar with the culture. My teachers’ nurturing approach gave me the courage to ‘take a risk’ and try something new. The benefits are enormous! I can now speak Japanese and have an in-depth understanding of a culture other than my own. Importantly, I have the resilience needed to face the demands of a high quality and challenging university course.”
“Teachers at ISS have guided me to be a risk taker by creating an environment to encourage me to try new things. They do so by assuring me that it is okay to make mistakes, as long as I learn from it. This makes me feel safe and comfortable to try unfamiliar activities, and I have benefitted as I have personally learned and grown. I recognise that I have developed this risk-taking skill, as I now dare to try, as opposed to not trying at all in the past.” Jeewoo, ISS student leader.
Jeewoo’s actions are echoed by Minaal, who observes that children who dare to take risks will often push themselves to take up a challenge. They also become more reflective as some will think about all the tasks before choosing one instead of rushing to pick the hardest. She remembers how a group of her students chose a task that they realised was too easy. In the next lesson, one of them said, ‘I am going to pick a harder task today because yesterday’s was too easy.’ On the flip side, she has also seen her students recognise that a task that they had selected was too difficult. They do take the initiative to stop what they were doing to try a slightly less challenging activity, and then pick up on the more difficult task as they learn new knowledge and feel more confident tackling this more complex task, under her guidance.
As Minaal further shares, “risk-taking is certainly not something that comes naturally to us, but for those who dare to venture into unknown territory, the benefits gained are abundant. We develop resilience, a growth mindset, the ability to remain flexible as we learn to cope when things don’t go as planned, and we apply our critical thinking skills gained from past knowledge to work towards success.”
These, together with the ability to take risks, are all important skills sets to have, as ISS grooms its students to become global ready. “As long as we understand that failure and mistakes are part and parcel of risk-taking and a huge part of the learning experience, then we will know why risk-taking is truly an important skill set to nurture! As a final parting shot from Minaal whose favourite quote from Thomas Edison draws parallels to risk-taking and its benefits, ‘I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.’