On risk taking as a teacher and jumping in the deep end

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I’ve recently run a number of TD sessions which show or “teach” teachers how to deal with specific new skills, or how to work with a new age group or try something out they may never have done before in class. The sessions were on teaching young learners, or on using tablets in class, or on learning how to use a tablet for the first time. In all cases, we were working together, trying things out together and talking about the experience together.

Now, as the sessions progressed I was struck by the amount of risk taking which was involved throughout. This reminded me of the following idea and image which the theatre director, Peter Brook, mentioned during an interview with his son and filmmaker Simon Brook for a documentary.

On risk taking by Peter Brook
On risk taking by Peter Brook

Although he is talking about acting and actors, I couldn’t help but think that the same applies to us teachers and teacher trainers/developers. When we go about doing something we have never done before, and in teaching this may often happen throughout our life cycles as teachers, we leave our comfort zones. The fear of doing this will differ according to the task at hand.

I myself can think of moments in which I had to do something which went well beyond my own boundaries of what I do with confidence. Teaching adult beginners is something I had always found immensely difficult. I always felt as if I was taking a huge risk and I avoided this like wildfire. Yet, a couple of years ago I decided to deal with this. I taught an adult beginner group in front of CELTA candidates. I was so nervous I hardly slept the night before, planning the lesson and mentally rehearsing it. This was a way of reducing the risk of the situation. It was a good strategy, which helped me tremendously.  It allowed me to go through the experience.

I needed to jump into this specific side of teaching in order to move forward and see things from a new perspective. I needed to break my established patterns. One of the things I have often found myself saying to students is that we are always learning something new.  And this applies to us teachers as well. There are moments in which we need to cross new straits of water.

As Peter Brook says, the minute we become less scared about something, the easier it becomes to let ourselves go and try something new. Once you you embark on the journey, a new sense of being and belonging starts to be created and we go beyond our own limits. He talks about breaking patterns, preparing the water and being able to jump in and swim freely.

I wonder whether in teaching it’s only about preparing the water? Can’t we, apart from preparing the water, also choose what water to jump into? You see, there is such a difference between jumping into water contained within a swimming pool and water in a river. The river flows. It poses a far greater risk, but also provides a tremendous amount of opportunities. Yet, if we are far too scared, we will miss the opportunities and not jump at all. Perhaps a safer first step may be called for. The pool provides a safer environment, which is limited by borders. These borders may provide a first essential limit. So, we feel safe about jumping in, knowing there is an edge to clasp if we need it and that the water won’t flow too far….

So, perhaps the answer lies in preparing the water and selecting which type of water to jump into.

And then all that needs to be done is to jump….

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