Risk Taking and "The Box" #IMMOOC

Great educators can work with the constraints of the system and still create innovative learning opportunities for their students. - George Couros

Paradigms are, by their very existence, the boxes that contemporary culture wants you to think outside of. Paradigms root themselves in organizations, businesses, governments, and fields of study and move from being innovative and fresh upon conception to being old-fashioned and stale as time passes. Paradigms provide the context for relating to, and understanding, a school of thought and an accepted approach to problem solving.  Within the world of education, the ability to “think outside of the box” exists both as a cliche and as a much sought-after personal or professional quality. Quantifying one’s ability to “think outside the box” is problematic, however, in that no defined measure exists that can be used to accurately gauge one’s ability to do it. The embodiment of this quality often becomes apparent when observed with the benefit of hindsight. The reality, however, is that when this ability is displayed, it is often the result of taking a risk and is therefore criticized or rejected in the moment. 

In order to be successful, therefore, one must find a way to take a risk within their given paradigm. The story of Brad Gustafson’s (@gustafsonbrad) approach to funding new initiatives within his school fits this criteria well. Brad worked within the box by working with his existing school budget but alsoprioritized new initiatives by taking the calculated risk of restructuring that budget to include a designated expenditure for “innovations.” Brad’s ability to create something new from what he had on hand (and not looking for additional funding to support pie in the sky ideas) was both innovative and a success.  He read the tea leaves, made a pivot to the traditional approach to school budgeting, and reaped the benefits. 

One of these benefits was the model he provided for his staff. The innovative nature of his choice to work within constraints but still take a measured risk gave his teachers the tacit consent to take risks in a truly sustainable way in their school. This growth-mindset rooted in working with what he had — finding a small way tomake a change that yielded big results — is an example for me as a school leader as well.