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Epic Moves as an Integral Part of Education

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I am thinking about the connection between risk-taking, epic moves, epic wins, and authentic learning in educational settings.  In doing so, I am reminded of my past experiences as an adventure therapist – taking at-risk youth on extended wilderness trips to provide them with opportunities for powerful behavioral change.  In terms of taking that epic move, one story comes to mind.

Fifteen year old, Susan, was a nice girl who came into the justice system due to a bad family history and a series of mishaps.  She enjoyed the outdoor experiences of camping, hiking, cooking, and being part of the group.   She liked the other group members and the other group members liked her.  Her greatest fault was her tendency for self-flagellation, often making derogatory remarks about herself.

It came time for the rappelling experience – about a week into the trip.  About a 100 foot rappel was set up for the teens.  Most rappels are much more mentally challenging than physically . . . and it is that first step backwards over the cliff face that many find especially mentally challenging.

Well, Susan found this first step overwhelmingly challenging.  For what seemed like forever but probably was 1/2 hour to 45 minutes, she stood on the edge shaking, crying, frozen.  Our “policy” was not to force teens into doing these types of challenging but supporting them to do so.  Susan wanted to do it, she said, but also stated that she didn’t trust herself or her abilities.

I really wanted Susan to succeed – knowing that doing the rappel would be epic for her.  I proposed a solution.  We could set up a rappel next to her and I would rappel down next to her.  We did so and this was the strategy that worked. Susan rappelled down the side of the cliff with me by her side.

When we got to the bottom, I gave Susan a hug and yelled in celebration for her success.  She was glowing from overcoming this seemingly insurmountable challenge.  But as is the case for low-esteem youth, Susan stated (as you’ve probably guessed), “It was because of you.”  My response back to her was, “In any case, you did it on your own.  I was just your guide on the side.  It was you who made that step of off the cliff and it was you rappelled down.  It was your success.”

I believe the epic move of stepping onto the side of the cliff which led to her success of rappelling was life changing for her.  Whenever she attempted to trash herself during the remainder of the trip, we would remind her of this epic win, of overcoming and successfully achieving something that had produced paralyzing fear in her.  She would smile and nod her head in acknowledgement.

This scenario can be a metaphor for how risks, both by teachers and students, are, can be, and should be incorporated into the learning environment. Risk-taking and making those epic moves lead to improved self-esteem, more innovation and creativity, and new and open thinking.  Aren’t these some behaviors and skills we want both teachers and students to learn?

But risk-taking and making those epic moves is often contrary to the world of accountability, tests, and standardization in our current education climate.  If the lesson plans are scripted (almost to the minute), curriculum is planned out by the day for the entire school year, and tests already established, then epic moves are not possible.  When epic moves are not possible, the likelihood of epic wins, by both the teachers and the students, become almost null.  Watch the following BBC Video, Schools encouraged to take more risks in the classroom, for more about this.

If teachers aren’t making and modeling epic moves, then this will lessen the likelihood for students in doing so.  Epic moves by educators may include:

  • Trying out a new instructional activity.
  • Letting go of control – letting students plan, lead, assess an instructional activity.
  • Permitting learners to use technology and/or their mobile devices – at least for some type of learning.
  • Learn something new with the students.

Epic moves by learners may include:

  • Attempting something new, unknown, or difficult where failure might be the consequence.
  • Presenting something to the class that they are passionate about . . . a type of TED talk.
  • Doing some type of performance for peers.

Consequences of not being a epic-move facilitator

  • Learners will lean towards those safe, road most traveled routes.
  • Learners will take the paths of least resistance and those with predictable results.
  • Boredom . . . especially for students who like/thrive on risk taking.
  • Lack of opportunities to be creative, innovative, inventive.

The interesting characteristic of making those epic moves is that often their perceived risk is much higher than the actual risk.  The worse case scenario of taking the risk, making that epic move is failure.  To that I say to both students and teachers, “So what? There was a failure, Use that information for future epic moves, and go forward.”

Additional Readings on Risk-Taking in the Classroom:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 19, 2013 at 9:29 pm

One Response

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  1. love the line, if teachers arent making epic moves neither will students.


    August 26, 2013 at 2:43 am

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