The Importance of Culture on Risk Taking

As teachers we want our students to try new things, leave their comfort zones and explore the great unknown. Though it can be uncomfortable, we know that it will bring growth and learning.


How do we create a space where this can happen? How often do we feel safe enough to take the leap ourselves?


I have been teaching elementary general music for the past 9 years. I have built strong music programs, taught hundreds of students, and am good at my job. I don’t say this to brag. I have enough training and experience at this point in my career that I feel very comfortable and confident in an elementary music classroom. So when I had the choice to give up the  K/1 class I had been teaching for 2 weeks to apply for a music position I could have chosen the easy path – I did not.

I started this school year as a TTOC (Teacher Teaching On Call – substitute teacher). I was called the day before teachers went back to work and asked to fill in a sick leave for a K/1 class. Having no contract I said, “Yes, I’d love to!” while freaking out inside. A job is a job! The next day saw me frantically trying to fill the shelves and walls of an empty makeshift kindergarten room while wondering what I had got myself into. I spent the weekend connecting with every kindergarten teacher I knew to get some first week advice. I put in many hours planning, prepping, meeting with parents, and finally connecting with my new class.

The staff were very friendly and supportive, making my transition from music specialist to classroom teacher as smooth as possible. There was a feeling of collaboration between teachers, support staff, and admin. Everyone was quick to offer help, with smiles and laughter. My principal lead the way, often jumping ahead of others – whether to assist in kindergarten orientation or to simply help me find the staples. It was quickly apparent that this was a safe place to ask questions and take risks.

Then the first round of teaching positions was posted. There it was – a full time elementary music specialist position. I had to make the choice between continuing in a teaching position outside my comfort zone or to apply for the safe elementary music job. I was able to sit with my administrator and discuss the options before me. She listened, gave me authentic feedback on my first 2 weeks at the school, and let me know that she would fully support me in my decision.

That conversation meant so much to me! I made the decision that a strong, supportive school culture was more important to me than teaching in my curricular comfort zone.

I know that I am going to learn a lot this year. I am going to try new things and grow as an educator. There will be many questions and challenges along the way.

My biggest challenge will be to create a safe and supportive environment that will encourage my students to take risks and leap into the great unknown.

goldfish jumping out of the water

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