I’m a big fan of NPR’s How I Built This Podcast, and in one episode Jim Koch, the founder of Sam Adams, talks about the differences between scary and dangerous. I had never thought about those words having different meanings, but now that I understand what those differences are, I believe that they are applicable to education and I’d like to share them with you.

He began by stating that many things are scary to us but are not dangerous. Conversely, many things are dangerous but are not scary. He then shares how repelling off a cliff is scary, but it’s not dangerous because you are held by a rope which is strong enough to hold a car. Then he shares how walking near a snowy mountain when the weather heats up probably isn’t scary, but it is really dangerous as there could be an avalanche.

That was very eye-opening for me and it took me a while to process those differences. I then started wondering if the comparison had applications in education. I believe it does and here’s what I’m thinking.

We frequently work to implement new pedagogy, strategies, and techniques in our classrooms. Trying something new and not knowing how the lesson might go can be scary. However, it’s probably not dangerous because what you’re trying is likely to be an improvement over other methods. So, this is a scary but not dangerous situation.

Conversely, it may feel comfortable to teach using the same methods for an entire career. However, how likely is it that one set of teaching methods will continue to be the best in 5, 10, 15, or 20 years? So, while this may not be a scary situation, it may be dangerous for students’ potential if we do not continually update our teaching strategies.

What do you think? Can you think of another place this applies to education? Please let me know in the comments.


  1. I think I see a parallel in having students understand in class I may ask them to do “scary” things, that usually involve random groupings, speaking in front of peers and other activities that are socially scary but not dangerous. I think it’s a good lesson and reminds me of the quote by Mark Twain… “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”

    • Wonderful Gene. I love both your application to students and the connection to Mark Twain (of whom I’m a huge fan).

  2. I have known very intuitive, student- focused teachers, who practiced formative assessment, progress monitoring, and other innovations before there were terms for those practices. Dangerous is the teacher who never tests their practices against research and maintains the less effective because “it’s what works for me.” Universal design for learning and something was still on the horizon when we decided that providing all learners with accessibility was a good idea. Scary is teachers discouraged from innovating solutions for learners that make sense in that moment.

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