Safe Risks

by ROCS teacher Maureen Alley

Sometimes as teachers we toss around educational words and phrases assuming everyone knows what they mean.  I recently realized this may not be the case when I talk about students at Red Oak taking "safe risks." At our school, safe risks come in three forms: social, physical, and academic.


Every time a child asks another child to play, they risk rejection.  "Will the other kid say no?  What if they don't want to play with me?  What happens next?"  When there are trusted adults nearby for support, however, this risk becomes manageable.  Students know that we are there to help them navigate the social waters, while still letting them captain their own ship.  

On the other end of this equation, there is a risk to telling a peer "no."  Each time a student decides and articulates that they'd rather play a two-person game, or play alone, they run the risk of upsetting their peer.  In more traditional settings they also run the risk of being forced into a game or partnership they don't want.  At Red Oak, we help the students find the balance between caring for others' feelings and taking care of one’s own.

Physical risks are the easiest ones to see!  Climbing downed trees, jumping off stumps, swinging on vines, and navigating muddy slopes are risky.  But the more practice kids have using their big muscle groups the less likely they are to get hurt while doing so.  At Red Oak we allow them to find the edges of their abilities and push a little further.  

Academic risks are taken every time a child stretches beyond their comfort zone, answers a question even though they might get it wrong, or uses inventive spelling to get their thoughts on paper.  We often discuss what happens when you make a mistake: “Fix it or ask for help!”  You can often hear Red Oak students tell themselves and others, "Erasers are awesome!" as encouragement to erase and try again.


Part of our curriculum[K1]  at Red Oak is how to make mistakes and how to learn from failure!  The Piggie and Elephant books by Mo Willems address failure and ways to move on in very kid-friendly ways. I also find it to be very valuable to let the students see my mistakes and struggles.  For example, I am not a very adept artist, but I keep on trying, modeling out loud, "Well, it kind of looks like a person.  I did my best on that one!"

At Red Oak we cultivate a culture that accepts risks in all forms.  It is a joy to watch the students grown and learn as they test their limits.