Learning is just risky
Many years ago, I learned a training/facilitation protocol we simply call Comfort/Risk/Danger.
When working with a team, the protocol helps them, based loosely around whatever it is they are trying to accomplish and what kind of work it entails, to share what things put them as individuals in the comfort zone, the risk zone, or the danger zone.
For instance, some team members will be totally comfortable with public speaking; for others, it feels dangerous. For some, crunching numbers is comfortable; for others, it would be a risk. Some find conflict dangerous; some find it risky. And, we all know those who are a little too comfortable with it.
But, we need speakers; we need numbers people; we need people who create, manage, and support effective conflict. And, we cannot afford for those skill sets to reside with one person or in one department. It’s too easy for them to get marginalized, or to go away completely. Some element of each has to be part of a broader culture.
So, as the protocol helps demonstrate, building an effective team cannot just be about capitalizing on what everyone is already good at (i.e. what puts them in the comfort zone). Creating a team is about learning how to support a pervasive element of risk.
Humans learn better when there is some level of risk. In the risk zone, we are stretching, challenging ourselves, and actively asking questions and seeking solutions. When we are comfortable, on the other hand, we are surrounded by what we already know. We aren’t actively learning. When we are in danger, we aren’t learning either (social, emotional, and professional danger; not just physical). Fight or flight kicks in. We shut down, seek relief, and avoid (or project our danger onto others).
This week, we launched Zeumo in four beta schools with a little over 4000 students, and Comfort/Risk/Danger has been on my mind all week. I have watched and experienced this frame play out not only within the Zeumo team, but with our school partners and their students.
How do we launch a new product and company in a way that doesn’t put those of us at Zeumo in danger? How do we support each other’s risk and keep out of danger?
How do we offer a new educational technology in a way that doesn’t put teachers or administrators in danger? How do we support them as they risk trying something new?
And, for students, how do we…well, for this kind of thing, our students seem to be more capable of staying safely in risk. They are still natural learners.
This week and this frame have reminded me why I enjoy teenagers so much. It has also reinforced just how powerful an educator-who-is-still-a-learner can be. We met many this week. And, finally, it has proven to me that new education technologies can and should do more than facilitate business as usual. We must risk working with students in new ways and flexing our own traditional practices to meet their real and current needs. We must be willing to be risky.
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