My daughter took an improv comedy class this summer – five afternoons of goofy middle schoolers being goofy. At the end of the week, a performance was held for an audience of camera-hoisting parents and fidgety siblings.
The event wasn’t particularly entertaining. (I did mention this was middle school improv comedy, right?) I was struck, though, by one of the organizers, who began by asking a simple question directly to the audience: “Do we have your permission to fail?”
“Yes,” the parents replied, smiling and nodding. Then, something surprising happened. The air in the theater suddenly felt lighter, the tween smiles grew broader, and I found myself rooting for those plucky little goofballs.
All it took to win over this reluctant audience member was for that leader to admit uncertainty and ask for a little grace.
What does this have to do with our classrooms? Risk taking is necessary for growth. It requires bravery, a rare commodity when you’re 14 and constantly worried you might do something that makes you look like an idiot. It’s much safer to stay quiet, keep your hand down, and avoid eye contact.
Several times this fall, I’ve helped the oxygen return to the room by using that improv leader’s line and simply telling my freshmen that it’s okay to be wrong. (My juniors, interestingly, have no problem being wrong. They’re loud and proud; I’m used to it.)
Teachers also need to be brave and take some academic risks. I had lunch last weekend with a teacher friend who’s at the beginning of her career. She fretted. I consoled. It’s what we do. While brainstorming curriculum over big salads, she admitted, “If I’m not sure I can do something perfectly, I don’t even want to go there.”
WHAT?!?! No, no, no, my sweet. Go there. Take the risk. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, I implored. Explain to your students that you want to try something new and then ask, “Do I have your permission to fail?”
You’ll be surprised by how often the answer is yes.
Teach on, everyone!