A Second Chance Often Requires Risk

By Mike Pinto, IPLI Mentor Cohort #4 and Principal at James Cole Elementary School

Have you ever made a bad choice or a series of bad choices? Have you ever found yourself in a position where your actions might lead to a
consequence that would be impactful on you but also have repercussions for others? I have. When I am in a position like that I often hope that I am offered a second chance. The thing about a second chance, when one is possible, is that it requires someone else to grant it. That involves a level of risk for the person offering the opportunity for redemption. It also opens that person up to vulnerability.

I witnessed a second chance yesterday. It was given by a teacher to a student. The student, through his actions and his choices, had found himself on the barrel end of a frustrated teacher at the end of her rope. The student, through his actions and subsequent inactions, had not only failed to complete the task at hand, but had been a detriment to many around him in their attempts to reach completion. When the silt settled, and the child realized that the door to a wonderful opportunity for him and for someone close to him was closing, he slowed down and paused.

The teacher allowed the student a chance to step away from the action. She also took the opportunity herself to find some quiet and reset her piece of mind. She then did two of the hardest things for an educator to do sometimes: She offered the student a chance to try once more. She also provided the student with a pep talk that included a definitive line, that if crossed would amount to the closing of the opportunity window, but dripped within it the motivation and “I believe in you” words often set aside for a football coach before the players take the field.

I must admit that as I sat and listened to the dialogue between the young man and his teacher, I had my doubts.  Sometimes you look in the refrigerator for a can of soda only to find it’s not there, and when you look again five minutes later, it’s still not there. A child’s behavior is often like this. Just because you open the door five minutes later, what you usually find inside doesn’t change. But sometimes you find a lone can of soda squirreled away behind the ketchup on the third shelf of the refrigerator door. The teacher took a chance by opening the door once more and found that hidden can.

The student not only took full advantage of the opportunity presented to him, he also spoke with prideful confidence to me when the teacher brought him my way for a praiseful debriefing. The task was accomplished, but more importantly, a second chance was offered, and it wasn’t squandered.

A second chance was offered yesterday which involved a risk on the part of the teacher. When you offer a second chance, you add to the exhausting work that is teaching, but you also become vulnerable.  You are vulnerable because, by putting yourself out there once again, you are risking the frustration and disappointment that accompanies someone who squanders their chance.  After a while, it just becomes easier not to open that door because of the empty feeling inside that occurs when what you see is not what you hoped it would be.

It takes courage to follow through on a second chance opportunity.  Many times praise is heaped on the individual for seizing the moment.  But I would argue the real risk is with the person providing the opportunity. With this person lies the risk that the chance will be squandered and the vulnerability that accompanies repeated disappointment.  The true hero is not the individual who finishes the race; it’s the person who allows the runner back into the block after a false start.

As you approach your day today, embrace your vulnerability, and offer someone a second chance. Champions are made from trying, failing, and trying again.  You are going to have some disappointments, but you also are going to have several wins. Those wins are wonderful for the individual offered a second chance, but the true winner comes from the person who says, “Do it again” and then follows up with “I believe in you.”