I remember the day very well. It was 2002, and my husband and I lived and worked in a small community in southern Indiana. I had just finished my English teaching licensure after I had received my Bachelor’s degree two years prior, substitute teaching as much as I could, and I was looking for a permanent teaching position. There were no open positions in the area, and since we were young, without children at that time, we decided to go to a job fair to see what was out there in the state of Indiana. While at that job fair, we met Ben.
Ben was a former Hoosier, now living and working in Pasadena, California, as the human resources director for Pasadena Unified School District, and he told us that he always made a trip to Indiana to recruit teachers, as there was a shortage of teachers where he was and he loved Indiana teachers. He was a former teacher and building administrator himself.
At the job fair, we stopped by his booth, just curious. What we didn’t realize was that Ben was about to change our lives.
He wanted to interview both of us that same afternoon. What?!?! I had my resume and a short version of my portfolio with me. My husband had the same. I did not feel prepared for this at all! We interviewed with him together - not separate interviews - and he drilled us. We answered question after question, truly walking away feeling like we were not ready for this job hunting process to begin! We started the drive home, both concluding that that was good practice, and we would continue to see what opportunities may arise.
After the two-hour drive home, I went about my business unpacking our suitcase and getting laundry going. Then, the shout came from upstairs. “Amy, you need come listen to this.”
Since we lived in a small farm house in the country, we had only one phone, a landline, sitting on an end table in our bedroom. I went upstairs to our bedroom, quite apprehensive, because I wasn’t sure what was going on. On our answering machine, (yes, answering machine because that was 2002), Ben left us a message.
(Not exact quote): “Amy and Travis, thank you so much for talking with me at the job fair. I would like to offer both of you a teaching position at Pasadena Unified School District. Please come out to Pasadena to visit our schools and we can talk the specifics.”
We sat on the floor in disbelief. I remember my husband’s face like it was yesterday. I’m sure my face looked the same. Was this for real? Were we just offered positions to teach in California? That interview was “just supposed to be fun”, a “what if”, not a reality. Now the big question, what do we do? Were we really going to consider this offer?
We talked for hours. We had no children at the time. We were both young. But our families were in the Midwest, which would mean leaving everyone we knew. We only knew two people in California, Ben being one of them. But, we always went back to the question, “But what if we never tried? Would we regret not trying this experience?”
It was not an easy decision, but we hopped a plane to Pasadena, eventually taking the positions at different schools, living and teaching there for two years. While it was only two years, I have to say that I will NEVER regret taking the chance and enjoying every moment of the experience. It was an AMAZING opportunity, truly making me a better educator right out of the gates. It was life-changing.
Many of our decisions are calculated and well-thought out. We have data to support our decision, we have talked with many people, and the decision to make is quite clear.
And sometimes, there is uncertainty. Sometimes, there is no clear answer. We are unsure of the outcome. We have the vision, but the path is not always paved for us.
Yet, we have to take a chance. We say, “Yes”.
Whether the opportunity is a big chance, like a new job, or small, like a new activity in the classroom, opportunities are all around us. In some, we play it safe because that may be best in that circumstance. But in others, we take a chance, because it may reap more rewards in the end. We have all taken a chance or two in our lives, a chance that we truly did not know the outcome, or are still awaiting the finality. I know I have taken a few chances in my classroom or at my school, planning and calculating the activity or decision making sure it aligned with my vision, and finally carrying it out, not knowing if it really would work.
We have all had those lessons as well. Will this go as planned? I could play it safe, following the plan from last year or the prescribed outline from the textbook, because it seemed to work before. Or, I could take a chance, try a different activity or set up, or even venture on a new outlook on how I want to build my lessons all together, taking a chance, not knowing if it will work or not.
In my professional career...
I took a chance jumping into a Twitter chat for the first time.
I took a chance joining the #leadupnow Voxer group.
I took a chance starting my own blog.
I took a chance becoming a principal and even changing school districts.
I took a chance gutting our computer lab.
And this is just a short list of chances I have taken in the last few years, let alone those from before this and those I will continue to take from this point forward.
In the end, we have to ask ourselves, what is best for our students and our schools? Will playing it safe all the time be best for them? Or, should we start taking more chances, pushing boundaries to try something new? Will that reach the goal of building skills for our students’ futures?
Playing it safe may be easier, but it is not always the best way, especially in the global economy that we live in today. Great inventions were not created by playing it safe. And this is the same in our classrooms and schools today. Innovation and change comes with taking a chance. Any time we begin a new initiative or venture, while there is a vision in place for the outcome, the path to that outcome is not crystal clear. It may mean taking a different path, one not traveled, taking a chance to try something new to accomplish the goal.
If we continue to play it safe, never taking that chance, we will continue to build compliance-ridden tasks that do not meet every child’s needs at that point in time, never truly capitalizing on the opportunity we have in building skills for OUR student’s futures. Compliance is not engagement, and no where close to empowering lifelong learning in our children.
You see, their future is different than ours. Yet, in many ways, we are preparing them in the same way we were prepared. This is not good enough any more. We must start taking chances, pushing our comfort zones, trying new approaches, bringing new experiences and opportunities to our classrooms and schools, seeing classrooms and learning differently. We must learn differently as well, taking it upon ourselves to grow, pushing our own selves to be better than the day before.
When my husband and I took the positions in Pasadena, we did not know the outcome, but took a chance. We took a big chance on our careers, and in the end, it made us better. Was it perfect? Absolutely not. But we learned, grew in our skills as educators, and have learned that taking risks, when designed with a clear vision, can truly reap rewards.
In our classrooms and schools, this is the mindset we need to shift toward. Standards, accountability, and standardized tests are there and always will be. But, I do not plan to allow this to dictate how we educate our children. That is playing it safe to an extreme. With a clear vision for what we want for our students, our why for being educators, we will take some chances along the way, learning and growing WITH our students, learning the skills necessary to be successful for a future we have yet to see.
Take a chance on an activity. Take a chance on a lesson. Take a chance on a new classroom configuration or “schedule”. Take a chance on your own professional learning journey. These chances may not work out perfectly. But, our students will benefit in not only seeing you take a chance with them, learning with them, but may grab ahold of some of the most necessary life skills you can share with them - the perseverance, fortitude, and empowerment to take a chance.