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Intellectual Risk: What tethers us?

One of the ten International Baccalaureate (IB) Learner Profile attributes is Risk-taker. As we know that our brains react to both physical and emotional threats in a similar fashion, physical challenges can teach us a lot about meeting  the demands of an intellectual challenge, with all the emotional threat that this may involve.

The dreaded classroom presentation is a great example to compare to the high ropes course; it being particularly apt due to that primitive amygdala of ours, which takes over when we think that things may not go well for us, either on a wooden platform 20 meters above the ground or in front of the class.

On the high ropes, we manage our fear because we are tethered in a physical sense, or at least I hope you are if you ever go up. When students get up in front of the class to present, what tethers them? What can they use to override their self-preserving fight or flight responses in the face of an emotional threat.

Having observed a class of Grade 7 students encouraging each other on the high ropes last week, I would say that the supportive culture of classmates is as much a tether as the safety rope connected to their harness. Knowing that you will be supported by your peers, regardless of how you do, is the strongest tether we can have when taking an intellectual risk. Building this supportive culture in the classroom and recognizing its impact is a vital step in the empowerment of our students as risk-takers. How explicit do we make this in our classrooms?

(5 October, 2015)

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