Differentiated Courage.

I have been thinking a lot about courage lately.

The school where I am currently working holds a select few big, meaningful, overarching goals.  One way we work towards meeting these goals is through small prototype groups.  Groups of staff members create, join, and work on prototypes which follow the design cycle to answer “How might we…” questions.  Currently, I am a member of a prototype that is working through the question, “How might we create opportunities for students to be courageous?”

I love this question!

In our early discussions and the research phase of the prototype, we quickly moved from the more narrow perception of courage, the ability to stand up, speak out, perform, be in the spotlight (literally or metaphorically), to a much more nuanced and differentiated idea of what courage truly is.

Courage is personal.  Being able to strategically make moves towards courageousness, whatever that looks like for the individual takes an awareness of what courage is and a certain level of self-awareness.

In my research, I quickly found this article, “The Importance of Academic Courage” by Ron Berger.  He opens his piece by stating, “Courage exists in math as much as in mountain climbing…”  Yes! Right?

He writes about differentiated courage,

“Some people have mountain-climbing courage but no public-speaking courage. Soccer courage is different from musical courage; big-city-at-night courage is different from forest-at-night courage. We all have courage in certain realms and less in others. And we can all work on our courage where we need it.”

I think that most young people, and perhaps many adults, believe that you either have the courage or you don’t like it is a gift.  As educators, we have learned so much from Carol Dweck about growth-mindset.  We now know that there is no such thing as a “math person” or a “literature person”.  We now know that we cannot diagnose a student’s potential, that nothing can tell us what a student is capable of.  Applying this mindset to courage and courageous acts feel like the next step.

We can safely say there is also no such thing as a “courageous person.”  With the right mindset, understanding, and resourcefulness we can all make courageous acts.  Courageousness is not only for the chosen or gifted ones!

Our prototype is not complete.  It is clear that our next step is to start talking to the students at our school.  We have a lot to learn from them about their perceptions and feelings around courage. I hope we ask the right questions.

4 Replies to “Differentiated Courage.”

  1. I am sorry I didn’t make it to the meeting today. I love that we are looking deeper and the idea of differentiated courage sits really well with me. Love the next steps of learning more from the kids. Looking forward to hearing what they have to say!


  2. Well put, Nora! You have summarised our meetings far more clearly than my notes! I do think a priority should be to recommend adopting ‘courageous’ school-wide, in place of the ambiguous ‘risk-taker.’ But then what? Let’s see what the students turn up!


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