Risk Aversion

I showed Morgan Spurlock’s TED talk to my Pop Culture Studies classes last week. Toward the end, he flashes this quote on the screen behind him:

“When you train your employees to be risk averse, then you’re preparing your whole company to be reward challenged.”

I chewed on that quote throughout the rest of the week, as my colleagues and I are forging new territories in our classrooms. Specifically, we are introducing our students to the concept of Challenge-Based Learning. And yes, the conversation about its grounding in Apple products is one for another day, but if you strip away the product placement throughout the resources provided, Challenge-Based Learning (or I’ve also seen it presented at Project-Based Learning), all that remains is a curriculum designed on teaching students how to think, work collaboratively, and create a product of impact.

The trouble for me is taking the risk. 

It’s a huge risk to try and guide juniors in high school through a research process that is so different from what they are used to. It’s a huge risk to relenquish some of the control I typically have in my classroom. It’s also a risk to trust that my students will follow me into the void, that they will take risks themselves and that we all will possibly fail.

But if we don’t take the risk…well, according to Spurlock’s quote, we’ll be reward challenged. If we don’t take the risk, my students will research meaningless topics about which they do not care, then write papers that I will not want to grade because they were not written with any kind of passion whatsoever, and I will have no one to blame but myself for not taking the risk.

So tomorrow, we begin a whole-class mini-research endeavor. All of us–myself included–figuring out the steps and elements of completing research that could actually change a life. I’ve been telling my students for the past week that even if what we do only affects one person, then it’s worth it.

I need to remember that sentiment throughout this process–maybe this year, only one student will find this risk to be worthwhile. But I will find better ways to teach this process and next year, maybe two students will love the risk. And perhaps it will grow exponentially from there.

And speaking of not falling prey to risk aversion:

First Year: Week Two from AE Stueve on Vimeo.

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