The importance of managing a risk-taker attitude

Mr. Gustavo Páez, Principal of International Program at Western Australian International School System  (WASS), shared the importance of a risk-taker attitude as well as positive classrooms creating methods, to create the best conditions for students to become risk-takers and develop comprehensively.

One of the values promoted during these weeks is to be risk-takers and this involves taking the initiative to do things that they are not used to or do not feel safe at all. It starts from raising their hand and asking without fear for something they don’t know, recognizing that they didn’t understand to receive help from other people, or even daring to overcome their fears and do something they have never done before.

Let’s encourage children and young people to fearlessly explore their surroundings and have the confidence to make mistakes in a safe environment where judgment or criticism does not affect self-esteem, but rather familiarizes them with it and allows them to cope with it.

I would like to share an article published in Edutopia about SEL (Social Emotional Learning) concerning A Classroom Full of Risk-Takers. State teachers of the year explain how they make students feel safe enough to take risks – and then push them to do so by Leticia Guzman Ingram.

No one learns without making mistakes. Quite the opposite – we learn when we make mistakes. But in the classroom, making mistakes and taking risks can be at best unrewarded, and at worst ridiculed and unnecessarily penalized.

I asked my 21-year-old son the other day what high school class had made him feel safe to make mistakes. He said that he never made mistakes. Really? He explained that he only did the work if he knew he was going to succeed. That made me think about my own teaching: Do I create a classroom where students will be risk-takers?

I asked my other son the same question and got an equally troubling answer. He never had to take a risk because his classes were too easy. That raised a new question: Do I make my classes challenging enough so students have to take risks?

I strongly believe that you have to fail in order to grow, and you need to do that through difficult situations. How rigorous are my classes? Do I create a safe space for everyone to speak freely? Are my students respectful to one another, and do they support each other to take risks and fail?

With so many questions, I decided to turn to a group of 2016 state teachers of the year and ask them what they do to encourage students to feel safe taking risks and pushing the boundaries of what they know or think they know.


Jean Russell, an elementary school teacher from Indiana, said her class puts a marble in a jar when students persevere. That includes trying different strategies to read a new work, solve a math problem, rewrite a sentence, or work out a difference with a friend. The marbles mean that when each student sticks with learning, the whole class benefits. “When the jar gets full, we have a perseverance party!” Russell said.


Arizona’s Christine Porter Marsh admits her own mistakes and talks about them. “I’ll say, ‘You were right. I was wrong.’” She also tells her classes that it’s OK to be wrong during discussions: “I’d rather have you contribute and be wrong than not contribute.” Topher Kandic of Washington, DC, demystifies the role of the teacher as an all-knowing sage by reading new texts with students and predicting how stories will turn out – often getting it wrong, but showing students that it’s OK to make mistakes.


To encourage thinking and exploring ideas, Ernie Lee of Georgia says he allows retakes of assignments and tests. “The grade is important, but the main goal is for them to be able to think and to know the material.” Students back up their comments with well-thought-out ideas to support their answers.


Most importantly, teachers can communicate how to learn from mistakes and do things differently next time. As a teacher, Natalie DiFusco-Funk of Virginia says, “I use the phrase ‘the power of yet.’” It means – for her personally and for her students – that just because they can’t do something yet doesn’t mean they can’t do it.


This idea comes from Diane McKee of Florida. Each Friday, McKee shows movie clips of famous people like J.K. Rowling, Michael Jordan, or Oprah Winfrey sharing stories about how they experienced failure before going on to succeed. It’s one of her students’ favorite activities.

As a new school year begins, I’m working to set a new tone in my classroom. 

A few years ago, I started my class by demonstrating something I was bad at: hacky sack. The kids laughed when I started missing the hacky sack and they saw how bad I was. I brought one of the students that I knew was good to the front of the class and had him demonstrate. I asked him how he got so good. Was it easy at first? Could I become as good as he was? Would he help me? We then had a group discussion about how failure and practice can help us grow.

That’s how I’ll set the tone for this year. I want my students to believe risks are valuable. I want to have a class where risks are celebrated. I want my students to feel free to make mistakes in front of friends and peers and collaborate to figure out answers. I want them to try not just when they’re sure they’ll succeed – I want a class of risk-takers.

Western Australian International School System

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