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Risk-taking: What does it mean to you?

IB World magazine asks teachers how they encourage students to become confident in taking risks and students share how this has helped them develop lifelong skills

Risk mainThe IB Learner Profile aims to develop students who are risk-takers. This means guiding students to explore new ideas and innovative strategies, challenging their ways of thinking and encouraging them to be confident in those decisions. This lifelong skill requires students to step out of their comfort zone and become courageous in their choices and actions. But, there is a hint of uncertainty and failure attached to the idea. How can teachers successfully encourage students to take risks and be resilient in the face of challenges?

Brian Kerekes, IB mathematics HL teacher at Celebration High School in Florida, US, believes risk-taking is crucial to academic success and development. He says: “We need to encourage students to be exposed to ideas and concepts they might never have known about. Risk-taking can expose a student to different ideas or different cultures; it develops their problem solving abilities.”

However, encouraging students to participate in risk-taking activities or behaviour is not always easy, both from the perspective of a student encouraging themselves and their peers, or a teacher encouraging their pupils.

“For many students there is almost an inherent fear of failure,” Kerekes explains. “As educators, we have a duty to challenge our students as much as possible, and give them the required support and feedback if they fail.”

Nnenna Umelloh, an IB Diploma Programme graduate of Plano East Senior High School in Texas, US, agrees. She says: “Risk-taking is challenging yourself to do hard things. It’s admitting that you just might fail, but you try it anyway and you work harder to succeed. Failure is an intimidating idea and, unfortunately, the fear of failure prevents many people from challenging themselves to do difficult things. But in order to be truly successful, there must be a possibility of failure. This fear can motivate people to work harder.”

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Concordian International School students were nervous about conducting their own science experiment but they took a risk.

Nnenna leads by example. She took a risk when it came to selecting her IB Diploma Programme subjects: “A risk is taking a challenging class in an area that is not your strong suit. For example, mathematics and science are not my strongest subjects. I consider myself to be a liberal arts student, but I decided to take HL biology in my junior year as I truly enjoyed biology at high school. I had to invest a lot more personal effort to be successful in that class.”

“It was gratifying in the end,” adds Nnenna. “I proved to myself that I can do difficult things. The class forced me to be more resourceful than I normally would be. Taking risks puts you in a situation where you can develop new skills and find new resources you would not have done otherwise. In addition, it teaches your mind to think and analyse material in a different way. It adds more exposure to what and how to learn.”

Teacher Nathalie Delgado, PYP Coordinator at Concordian International School in Bangkok, Thailand, agrees that risk taking produces a positive outcome and explains how she encourages students to take risks:

“When a student has tried something new in class – whether participating in a group discussion or solving a problem in front of the class – I do not praise the result but praise the effort behind the action. I often link this positive praise with the word ‘courageous’ or ‘risk-taker’.”

Back in Florida, Kerekes discusses the idea that risk-taking can enhance creativity too, “In my opinion, the greatest risk-takers are the students who select the most unique topics, or candidates whose topics may require more background research in order to fully understand what they are analysing,” he says.

Risk-taking may go further than subject-specific study or academic fields. The IB programmes may by their very nature be a good example of risk-taking within education, as Kerekes explains:

“It’s is an integral part of the IB Learner Profile. I believe some students take a risk by choosing the IB. But it’s a risk I promote and encourage in all my classes because I believe the IB incorporates risk-taking in order to develop well-rounded students.”

For both teacher and student, the role of risk-taker and the nurturing of these skills is important to continued success. Risk-taking is something that students can take away with them, far beyond passing exams; it gives students something far more valuable and long lasting.

Kerekes says: “If our students can learn to take risks without fear of consequence they would be more inclined to take risks in the future, which would undoubtedly expose them to more of the world around them.”

skate boardNnnena agrees and believes that taking risks is a form of personal development: “It’s an opportunity to prove to yourself that you can do difficult things. When you take risks, you are constantly in a state of growth and are propelling yourself further to achieve more. You are actively challenging yourself to become the best version of yourself,” she says.

“The best thing about taking risks is that eventually it becomes second nature. You develop skills in assessing the best type of risks to take and when to take them.”

How do you encourage your students to become risk-takers? Let us know: email

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