Risk Taking in Education

May 18, 2017

Published in Autumn News 2017. 

Pendulums are a well-known educational phenomenon. In some cases it is much needed whilst in others the pendulum swing can be too big and hence detrimental to good educational outcomes.

One current pendulum swing is around the theme of risk. It has become a growth industry for all organisations. A takeaway coffee cup warns us that the ingredients are hot or a sign cautions us that a river can be dangerous. In many school programs this swing has been very beneficial e.g. child protection policies and practices. In other areas the swing has been detrimental at times.

The educator knows that appropriate risk-taking is fundamental to academic growth, character development and human endeavour.

At all three campuses we use an inquiry-based approach to our curriculum implementation e.g. Primary Years Programme (PYP) at Lindfield, Building Learning Power (BLP) at Wyvern and a choice between the HSC and IB Diploma Programme at the secondary level. Risk-taking is crucial within an inquirybased approach for good academic learning. We like uncertainty in many academic endeavours as it can promote new ideas, new approaches, divergent thinking and innovation.

No successful inventor or positive influencer on society ever played it safe and accepted the status quo. Risk-taking can help with resilience, resourcefulness and flexibility with change. All are key features of good learning.

In the co-curricular field, risk-taking can be a wonderful attribute. Exploring a new music composition or trying a different visual arts technique can range from being frustrating, inspiring, complex and rewarding. Overcoming a perceived risk of tackling the bigger lad in Rugby; taking the plunge on an abseil rope over a cliff; overcoming the long bush walk through difficult terrain; facing the very quick bowler; taking on a new sport; and signing up to a drama production for the first time can all be enormous character building endeavours.

We must be careful not to legislate away all risk, all challenge, all adventure, all exploration or all innovation. These qualities are essential to the human spirit. Used in the right way they can significantly boost self-esteem, reduce inappropriate teenage risk-taking alternatives and provide great depth of character. Challenge builds common sense, teamwork, sensitivity, mental stamina, sound judgement, organisational skills and a confidence in oneself. Defeating a challenge or perceived risk can provide a wonderful high.

Our talented staff work very hard at providing a “safe as possible” challenge in all of our Strategic Plan pillars. The challenge must be included and they cannot eliminate all risk, nor would they want to. Risk, of course, can be real or perceived. I would note that the most risky thing a parent does with their child is to transport them by car. A parental “wrap them in cotton wool” approach could be just as risky from possible suffocation, a lowering of the required resilience to the knocks of life and a lack of nurture of any independent thought processes.

The wrestle to get the pendulum right in this area of risk is never easy. The same can be said about our parental role. We all seek to have independent and resilient children being life ready.

Dr David Mulford