July 12, 2023
Learning to Take Risks
With Tim Griffith
“You’re not going to shape culture if you’re afraid to take a risk,” Mr. Tim Griffith said. Earlier this year I got a chance to sit down with Mr. Griffith, Senior Fellow of Classical Languages at New Saint Andrews College. During our conversation, he emphasized the significance of teaching students to take risks. He explained that learning how to take risks is a key skill that students need to be leaders in shaping culture.
Leaders are individuals who lead others and that requires them to be willing to take risks, which may result in making mistakes. If a person is unwilling to make a mistake, then that person will never try anything new or difficult. They will be stuck in old patterns and habits and they won’t stretch beyond their limits to try something new. But a leader must be willing and able to learn new skills and habits. This requires the skill of knowing when and how to take risks.
Mr. Griffith explained that the academic world of higher education often discourages risk-taking. He said, “Our whole academic setup is based on: ‘You need to make as few mistakes as possible so that you can gain approval and get your stamp and get your A [letter grade].’” One example of this would be a class that simply provides information to students and then requires them to memorize it and reproduce it on a test. In that situation, if a student tries something new or different the student will be marked wrong for it because it was not the exact way the information was presented.
“There’s nothing particularly wrong or bad with that in itself,” Mr. Griffith added. “It’s just that when that’s all academics is, I think it tends to cultivate a lack of risk-taking.”
“Students are afraid to try something a little risky because they might make a mistake,” Mr. Griffith said. “And the riskier it is, the more likely they are to make a mistake.” He explained that this fear of taking risks is common in students, even ones at NSA: “We get students coming from all over the place and a lot of students, even though they are very talented, they’re terrified of making mistakes.”
"I am getting them to understand: you need to try something that’s going to push you a little bit and you might make a mistake. It’s not like it’s going to go in your permanent record because you tried something hard and made a little mistake.”
Mr. Griffith said in his language classes he is trying to help students understand that it is permissible to try things out and to take risks. This is a big part of how he teaches his Latin classes. He likened his language teaching approach to that of a sports team practice, where he coaches students on how to effectively utilize the language. He explained, “So, I am getting them to understand: you need to try something that’s going to push you a little bit and you might make a mistake. It’s not like it’s going to go in your permanent record because you tried something hard and made a little mistake.”
He added that sometimes when students are writing a sentence in Latin and they make a grammar mistake, they will apologize about that. And he said that is unnecessary. He tells students, “Don’t apologize to me for trying to write a sentence and making a mistake.” Making a mistake is part of the process of learning the language.
He then used an example of a basketball coach teaching players how to shoot the ball. He said, “Imagine if you were to try to do this if you were learning basketball, ‘Hey, take a shot’ and you brick it. ‘Oh, I’m so sorry, coach.’ You’re busy worrying about the fact that you made a mistake and instead of just thinking ‘Oh, well that one was a little bit short, and next time I do that I need to give it a little bit more power so I can get that one in there.’”
Mr. Griffith explained that he is trying to coach students on how to learn from their mistakes. He said that this skill is important for life. There is a learning opportunity built into every situation. If they succeed, they need to consider why and how to do it again next time. If they fail, they need to learn from that and figure out how to do it right.
There is a learning opportunity built into every situation. If they succeed, they need to consider why and how to do it again next time. If they fail, they need to learn from that and figure out how to do it right.
He added that he wants students to look at mistakes in the right way. He said students shouldn’t let it get in their heads and mess with them. They should think to themselves: “‘What did I do wrong? OK, what can I do, maybe to get that right next time?’ And then just go right back out there.”
Mr. Griffith concluded by saying that taking risks is pivotal in shaping culture. “I think that’s huge when it comes to you being actually influential in the world.”