Put yourself in your child’s shoes. Think about teaching her to ride a bike (or if you haven’t had the pleasure of this yet, harken back to you as a child with your own parent). She allows you to let go because she knows that if she starts to fall, you will catch her, or at least pick her up and kiss the scrapes. You will encourage her to try again and to find the joy in riding that bike. She is safe.
All learning involves some form of risk. After all, you are attempting something new that you have never done before (otherwise it would not be learning). As teachers, it is our job to create an environment where students are willing to engage in risks. This means showing our support through appropriate encouragement and making sure that the risk falls within an acceptable range. The steps between learning concepts and skills need be just far enough apart that students stretch, but not so much that they fall on their faces.
As the educational leader of Schechter, I strive to enhance and develop this sort of environment. Every educator in the building shares the responsibility to provide our students with the opportunity to build positive relationships with adults who are supportive, have high expectations, and regularly communicate with them. Without these underpinnings, it becomes difficult to encourage student to make the right choices when it comes to making educational risks.
In the last few weeks, I have seen in our hallways and classrooms an abundance of this kind of healthy educational risk. Our seventh graders proudly and capably stood by their science fair projects while judges (in some cases, complete strangers to the students) asked them probing questions about their hypothesis, procedures, and conclusions. Yesterday morning, three fourth graders stood up in front of their classmates, teachers, and relatives to read directly from the Torah for the first time. And all week, the physical education staff have been trying out new team “sports”, including indoor bobsled teams and group cross country skiing (all on one pair of giant skis!). None seem easy even for the most athletically gifted children.
These are just a few examples of the way that the supportive environment at Schechter encourages students to take risks and step out of their comfort zone just a little bit more each time. Our educators are setting the stage for this learning to occur and will keep pushing our students to grow.
When I came to Schechter, it was already a warm, supportive environment. Having seen countless examples of our students’ development this year, I am incredibly excited and proud to be a part of continuing to help us thrive. The core of the risk-taking happens within our classrooms and I want to ensure that the teachers themselves have the support they need to facilitate our children’s growth. Therefore, one of our next steps on this path is the creation of a new staff position for Schechter, the Director of Teaching and Learning. We are beginning a national search to find just the right candidate. As the search progresses, we will update you.
Make sure to check out this week’s Cleveland Jewish News’ Education Section for more great things going on at Schechter.
Dr. Ari Yares