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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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  • Dennis

    Please provide a Google+ share option

  • Yuniarti Santosa

    Something intangible: such as risk-taking should be modelled by the teacher. Students should be able to see that everybody can be risk-takers. One thing that I started was to show that I would try something that I have not done before or I would try something new even though I am not sure if it is right or wrong. Students would notice my action and understand what being a risk-taker means and how it shows.

    I agree with what it’s written above that being a risk-taker is an opportunity to prove oneself that you can do difficult things or things that are new to you or things that you are not sure whether you could accomplish or not. I encourage students to take risks by recognizing and pointing out the action/behaviour when students take risks.

    I use the word every day and encourage them to ‘show’ what it means.

    ‘Who would like to be a risk-taker by presenting the Work First?’ ‘Be risk-taker and show how we could solve this problem.’

    When we are working on experiments to see the effect of sound and light to the growth of the beans, I ask them if they would try different ways on how to give new condition to the beans to see of the beans grow differently ‘, etc.

    One thing that is important for kids to be able to take risks is we should make sure that kids feel safe and comfortable to do that. No one would laugh at them when they make mistakes. Students would not feel humiliated when doing something for the first time and it’s wrong. Everybody needs to understand that it’s OK to make mistakes.

    I would like to share what my first and second graders think about being risk-takers.

    When we started the discussion, I asked students what it means (both in English and in German). So we discussed about the type of the word. Is ‘risk-taker’ a verb, an adjective, a preposition or a noun? We looked at the meaning of ‘risk’ and let them try to explain using words their.

    After the discussions, I asked them to write and draw picture to describe what ‘risk-taker’ means. Most students are learning English as a Second and Foreign Language.

    There are 3 questions that I asked them to think about.
    – What is a risk-taker? What does ‘being a risk-taker’ mean to you?
    – Are you a risk-taker? What do you do? What have you done?
    – What makes you a risk-taker? What should others do to help you (someone) to be a risk-taker?

    It’s interesting to see their drawings and writings that show their understanding of ‘being a risk-taker’.

  • Kate Taverner

    Hi Yuniarti,

    Many thanks for your response to our blog post. Thanks also for sharing your students’ drawings – they’re great, we can see that students have gone to a great deal of effort.

    It’s very positive that you encourage students to take risks with their learning everyday in different situations, and that you lead by example. What changes have you seen in your students as a result of the classroom discussion?


  • Yuni Santosa

    Hi Karen,
    I must have missed this reply. The students are more aware of how they are supposed to respond to new activities. They are using the language ‘I would present my story first because I am a risk-taker.’ The students even remind each other (including me as a teacher) to be take a risk.



    I loved your idea! I’m definitely going to do that this year in our integration week. Thanks for the concrete example.