article banner

Leadership Letter: Recognizing a Risk Taker

By Joanna Mathes | May 2022

Risk taker. Gambler. Adventurer. Daredevil. 

These are not words I typically use to describe myself. When asked to submit an article for the MSCA newsletter, I Googled the term “risk taker.” I discovered various authors penning phrases to describe risk taking such as “refusing to accept the status quo,” “being passionate” and “not being afraid to ruffle a few feathers.” School counselors have much in common with risk takers such as Thomas Edison who was quoted as saying, “I didn’t fail, I just discovered 10,000 ways that didn’t work.” 

Risk takers learn and grow from mistakes. They trust their gut and work hard to achieve goals. School counselors are a humble lot, quietly going about their business to make sure their kids are getting the things they need and deserve and serving as the loudest cheerleaders when they see their students succeed.

The more I searched, the more I discovered just how similar we school counselors are to risk takers. Every day we face challenges and help students overcome obstacles. We want to do good things for ALL kids, but sometimes must push the boundaries with administration to get things we need or want for students. We carve out time for professional development because we know “iron sharpens iron” and we need a sharp sword to wield in the battle we wage daily in our schools. Each day we are called upon to make numerous decisions and, in the process, we sometimes make the wrong ones. We learn from our mistakes, and we move on. 

I am reminded of a conversation I had with our MSCA spring Take 10 Conference LGBQTIA speaker Lisa Koenecke regarding risk takers. Risk takers go from “zero to hero” by simply being a listening ear or safe person students can seek out. Risk takers allow themselves to evolve from adversaries to advocates for all students, regardless of personal beliefs or political pitfalls. In a world of uncertainty, school counselors must bridge the gaps for our students socially, emotionally and academically by providing them with equitable opportunities and even playing fields. Amen to all of this!

My final research into “risk taker” led me to the definition stating “someone who risks loss or injury in the hope of gain or excitement.” How well do school counselors know the heavy burdens carried by many of our students, or how our hearts break when we lose a student to suicide, drug abuse or wrong choices? We take the risk of loving big and losing much, but at the end of the day we are grateful for our opportunities and relationships we forge with our students. I know that every day I go to a job where I am never bored, always challenged, and look forward to witnessing young people become better versions of themselves because my fellow school counselors are working hard as risk takers to make such a difference!

Contact Joanna Mathes, MSCA Board member, at