Encouraging pupils to take risks and navigate failure

Posted on 08th October 2018

Captains of industry and creative geniuses get where they are by aiming high and sometimes falling short. In an article for TES, Caroline Henshaw asks how teachers can encourage pupils to take risks and navigate failure, and quotes Alistair McConville on the importance of understanding their struggles.

A 2015 study of award-winning US teachers by Michigan State University found they all took creative risks in their work, drawing on their own interests and hobbies to help students learn. Recent research has also found that UK teachers who take creative risks leave the longest-lasting impression on pupils, particularly when they draw on their own passions, bring in real-world examples and adapt their methods to suit their classes.

However, onerous workloads and long hours mean that many teachers struggle to keep up with the job, leaving little time to come up with new ways to grab students’ attention. Constant pressure to produce results compounds the problem, with a damning report from the NAHT headteachers’ union concluding that government accountability measures are counterproductive in terms of school improvements. Some academy chains actively encourage teachers to use pre-planned lessons and standardised teaching methods to improve efficiency which, says Caroline, doesn’t leave much room for innovation.

Teachers taking risks may also require risk-taking from their students, which can sometimes cause friction. This can be particularly acute for teenage girls, and teachers say it can also be harder to try new, riskier learning techniques when working with children from difficult backgrounds, and particularly those for whom English is a second language.

Bedales Director of Innovation & Learning Alistair McConville recently took Chemistry GCSE, in part to remind himself how difficult the learning process could be for pupils, and of the importance of being willing to take risks.

“It definitely was helpful in terms of empathising with their struggles,” he says. “It’s about confidence and about making risk acceptable and desirable. You have to risk the chance of failing to find out where your limits are so you can push them.”

The full article can be read on the TES website (subscription may be required).

TES | Alistair McConville | Bedales approach to learning