Saturday, September 26, 2015

Taking the Risk out of Risky

As I read Chapters 2 and 3 of Nakkula and Toshalis’s Understanding Youth, I was brought back to my many undergraduate psychology courses at Rhode Island College.  However, contrary to what many might think, it wasn’t necessarily a bad reminiscence because I enjoyed most of those courses, and the ideas of psychologists such as Erikson and Marcia have helped me to further understand adolescent (and human) psychological development.

Image result for erik erikson

Image result for erik erikson


With that being said...I don’t want to spend time going over the distinct stages of youth and adolescent development because I think the authors do a good job condensing the material.  I also appreciate the way they weave in and out of informational writing and real world narrative accounts of some of the theories being played out in a high school atmosphere.  (Although I have to say that some of the students’ dialogue is funny to read because I know the authors were trying to hone in on teen dialect and slang, but it sort of felt contrived…oh well, at least they tried!)

I want to focus on two quotes from chapters 2 and 3 that I feel spoke to me and my role as a teacher and, therefore, contributor of meaning making identity:

“Our own development is reflected in the challenges of our students; if we pause to recognize the images of adolescence reflected back to us, the possibilities for authentic connection are multiplied exponentially.  The us-them dichotomy can be reconfigured as an integrated “we,” working together, relying on one another, to create possibilities for who we are and what we might become”(27).  I agree completely here and I think Ayers would as well.  We need to, as educators, understand that the terms teacher and learner should be replaced with the terms human and human.  OK, yes, it is our job to teach students, but we need to be ever reminded and aware of the fact that we are a direct reflection of our students, just as they are a direct reflection of us.  Also, like Nakkula and Toshalis argue, we need to remind ourselves of the experiences and challenges we ourselves faced as adolescents when interacting with our students.  If we are able to do so, we are better able to work as a team with our students, thus creating the “we” Nakkula and Toshalis speak of.

“As school-based professionals, when we project ourselves into relationships with youth, it is important to be risk takers, not just because it models the sort of risk taking we would like to see in our students but because it helps us to secure relationships and project ourselves into possibilities we might not consider otherwise.  In fact, the adults who take risks in their work with youth are better positioned to influence youth risk taking than those who do not.  As school-based professional try to defend a victim from bullying, step outside the de facto dress code dictated by their peers, voice an unpopular opinion, or raise their hand in class despite being shy, they are most likely to be heard by the youth they are attempting to influence if they have practiced taking the same risks in faculty meetings!(55).  Wow!  This one really struck me because I am most definitely NOT a risk taker in any sense of the word.  I would be the last person to speak up at a 150 person faculty meeting.  But it did make me think that maybe risk taking can sometimes be a good thing...and maybe I should try it more often.  There is a certain level of courage in risk taking that I, of course, want my students to have (and I also want myself to have).  Therefore, if we are, in fact, projections of our students and vice versa, I need to be able to give them an example of some positive risk taking behavior.  Maybe not at the next faculty meeting steps.

OK, one more quote because it reminded me of the famous Shakespeare “All the world’s a stage” quote from As You Like It…

“All of us are playing with and experimenting with identities, trying to be a sort of Chameleon, but one that people can actually see and like”(35) very true about human beings in my opinion! And actually, the stages Shakespeare mentions tie in very closely with Erikson's stages of human circle...


  1. Melissa, I too made notes about those quotes you chose! The "us vs. them" dichotomy (whether between students and teachers or teachers and administrators) is dangerous and limits everyone's development. I wonder if you might be able to capitalize on all of the risk taking your students must do everyday when the content is new or uncomfortable. Then, use that as inspiration for risk taking in the classroom. It makes me think about Alice Jefferson in the Ayers text who takes on a research project with her kids on a topic neither she nor the kids know anything about. I feel like an experience like that guarantees that teacher and student labels become unnecessary really allowing everyone to be a learner instead.

  2. Melissa, I like that you make the distinction several times throughout your post to point out that the words "teacher" and "student" can be replaced with "human"...because, really, we are all still figuring out who we are, because we are always under construction! We are all constantly learning new things and sharing new experiences with the people in our lives (including students), so we are constantly changing. I don't think I ever fully realized that this growing, changing, and learning I was experiencing at certain points in my life would never stop - and although I love it, it scares me a little bit! I want to be certain of who I am, but I know that I will never be the same person I was the day before. Our students are wrestling with this part of growing up, but I want to make it known to them that in some way, we are all still growing up.

  3. Melissa,

    I also loved this quote-- “As school-based professionals, when we project ourselves into relationships with youth, it is important to be risk takers, not just because it models the sort of risk taking we would like to see in our students but because it helps us to secure relationships..." This made me feel the students in my math class are constantly not taking risks because they do not want to get looked at as a lesser in the class. I think it is important to model this behavior in front of them because it creates a classroom of risk-takers. "... the adults who take risks in their work with youth are better positioned to influence youth risk taking." I am a terrible spelling and many times i say the answer to problem when I am actually looking for an answer. I always say to students "dive off the deep end" (take a risk) as a confidence builder. As soon as I say these words, more hands go up.

    I am just the opposite- I am a risk-taker (majority of the time), I am always putting myself out there at meetings and professional development. "If we don't take risks, we don't learn, whats the worst that will happen?" Right? :)

  4. I think the two quotes you chose, and your expansion on them puts into words a lot of what I felt this week. I have had a lot of conversations (internally and otherwise) this week about risk, and decided it is a complicated issue. There are those we take risks with, and those we don't (I also do not speak out in faculty meetings often). There are some healthy risks we would never dream of - I'm thinking singing in public- and dangerous ones we do all the time - checking an email or text while driving to work -
    So all this begs the question - How do we provide the quantity and variety of appropriate risk taking opportunities to our students to provide them with some balance and safe space?