Stage 1: Adult Learning and Leadership

Waiting for Spiderman: International Take a Risk in Education Week

We Imageall know Peter Parker’s secret to becoming a totally cool super hero who used smarts, spidey sense, and a little bit of webbing to save his corner of the world: a radioactive spider bite.

The funny thing is, what our students need from education isn’t so different from the transformation Peter went through (n.b. the first transformation, not Spiderman 3 – I haven’t seen that one yet, but looks like what happened wasn’t good).  We want school to hone our students’ talents and develop their passions so they can make the world a better place.

We also know that what we have been doing in education isn’t turning out superheroes they way we would like.  The kids who become innovators and change the world are the exception not the rule.  They are kids who beat the system and managed to salvage their creativity and passion from our industrial model of schooling.

So how do we create this change?  How do we have an education system that actually develops creative innovators committed to a more just, sustainable, and healthy world?

We know we can’t just keep doing what we are doing and expect different results.


And we can’t just wait around for a radioactive spider.

I used to think what we needed was just more.  If we only made the school day longer, made kids go to school on Saturday, the list goes on and on, we’d get there.  I would say to myself “If only we had more time with students we could reach that goal” or “If only we get a little better at what we’re doing we’ll get there.”

Now I see that more of the same though isn’t really change; it’s just more.

I used to think that the answer was finding someone with the answer and asking for concrete steps and strategies.  At the end of trainings, I would ask  “How do I do this in my classroom?” and wait for a formula that would be the saving grace for my students and me.

Now I see that there’s no single strategy, no step-by-step process for creating innovators.  Spending more time and doing what we do now better won’t get us to the superhero level.


So what’s an educator to do? We believe that we can achieve the results we envision, cultivate fair-minded, collaborative, passionate innovators, by focusing on a few key principles.  The first one, the foundation for all the rest, is becoming innovators ourselves by continuing to learn and challenging the status quo.  That’s stage 1 of our 5 stage framework: Be the change you wish to see. One of the best ways to do that – to open up to learning – is to try something new, to take a risk.

Now one quick caveat:  Taking a risk doesn’t mean just doing anything.  I’m pretty positive that if you show up on Tuesday in hula skirt your kids aren’t going to suddenly figure out how to end global warming.



ImageSo take a risk that you think might engage students’ passions, creativity or critical thinking but is a little scary for us adults.

In fact we would like to propose that this week (March 11-15) is International Take a Risk in Education Week (ITAREW – pronounced ita-ru for short). Image

If you need some help getting started, a good first step is to ask your students what they think about your class and use their responses to figure out your risk.

Download a good survey here.

So take a risk and let us know how it went.  What did you do?  What effect did it have?  Would you do it again?

We can’t wait to hear about it.

3 thoughts on “Waiting for Spiderman: International Take a Risk in Education Week”

  1. One risk that I took was assessing students through a…wait for it…collaborative presentation. Throughout their preparation, students worked in groups to plan how they would tackle the question at hand, research relevant information, and finally create a compelling presentation. This risk challenged the idea that we can only assess students when we single them out and measure their performance divorced from any collaboration. How many times in the real world does that happen? Almost all the work we do is in teams and sometimes even though it might seem crazy first, it make sense to assess students for their collective work and their ability to collaborate in an effective team!

  2. While I’m not involved in education (I work in community development), I took a risk today by having a really engaging and active conversation with someone at a conference who held very different views from me on a variety of issues. We had vastly different political and cultural views, live in very different parts of the country, and (this is the icing on the cake!) have different views on the use of the Oxford comma. Despite our inability to agree on political (and grammatical) points, we had a very positive dialogue and recognized that it was so important to have such a conversation in the first place. Our country is very big, with a lot of people, living in very different communities. Despite our different backgrounds, we found a common ground in believing in the value of communication and coming together to explain our viewpoints. We should all take these risks sometimes by stepping outside our comfort zone and reaching out to others who may disagree with us. While it may be cliche to say you “agree to disagree,” I think creating space for these conversations to take place is critical for moving the conversation forward on whatever issues you believe in.

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