There are very strong stereotypes about adolescents. These are often quite negative ones: Irresponsible. Antisocial. Rude. Disrespectful. Rebellious. Silly. Risky.
Teenagers take more risks than any other age group because risk-taking is one of the most common and exciting ways that teenagers can test themselves, their surroundings and their lives.
What if we stopped being scared of risks and labeling risk-takers as stupid? What if we started educating using risk-taking in our classroom? What if we tried to guide this risky, extreme teenage behaviours by encouraging pupils to take chances and challenge themselves in a safe and secure educational environment?
Finally, what if we got our teenage students to employ us to analyze and carry on the risks and decisions they had taken?
Risk taking for communication and problem-solving
No-one has changed the world by doing what the world has told them to do. There is always the time when we need to do it in a different way. There is always the time to take risks and try something new. In our language classroom, we may start raising very actual matters (psychology, current events, news, personal issues) and brainstorm extraordinary risky solutions. Check, discuss and analyze them.
A choice is a risk. Get your students to choose what to study, what to say, how to organize the event, activity, classroom and so on. Lead them until the end of realizing their choice and share their success or failure.
Social influence has the biggest effect on teenagers decision making and risk taking.
Teenagers are going to pay more attention to their peers than to adults. So, if organizing an informational adolescent campaign what seems to matter most is to change social norms and start educating young people to run their own “Against” or “For” campaigns. That has a much bigger impact than adults running campaigns.
Instead of feeling threatened by other people’s success, a more healthy approach is to want to learn from them. How do they do what they do? What is their mindset like? Ask students to choose someone they admire – and encourage them to research their mindset. A great idea is to bring to the classroom personal overcoming challenge stories and discuss the risks which were taken within them.
It was a bit of discovery for me that elementary school age groups from 7 to 10 are surveilled by teenagers in some French educational establishments. Every teenager has one kid to take care of. Teenagers’ responsibilities are to make sure that their kids have no bullying problems and are engaged in school outdoor activities. As educators believe, that kids are more likely to talk about their problems with teens than with teachers. Teachers involve teenagers in the educational process and share with teens responsibilities for creating a healthy and safe environment outside the classroom. Teenagers highly value this role.
Nurture failure as a capacity to grow.
There are certain questions you can ask to get them thinking about their own mindset. Is the effort of today worth the reward of tomorrow? What should I do to get better? How can I use what I have learned today?
Praise has a profound impact. This is because praising efforts provides a template for young people to follow. As language teachers, we can promote risks to express own opinions. Having and expressing own opinions should be encouraged and celebrated in the classroom. We all know it takes courage to run a risk and have a say then probably face a disapproval.
Give your attention
The teenagers nowadays are desperately crying to be seen. As a teacher give them that gift, the gift of being seen and heard. Give them your smile and acceptance. Make them visible and understood. Get them to understand themselves better as well. Get them to know how their brain works and develops. You can organize some educational talks about this intense period of life – teenagehood. When everything is quite unstable both in terms of the social world, biology and hormones. Talk about this very natural adaptive developmental time, when things are changing and teens become to be independent adults.
Finally, taking risks is a part of life. Progress is impossible without taking risks. Involving teenagers into analyzing risks and consequence will promote mindset growth, healthy attitudes and critical thinking. Here, a language teacher has countless opportunities to teach a subject and educate teens by tapping into their risky mindset. And do not worry that you have to diverse from your lesson plan because guess what, Education Still Takes Place.