failure

The Failure Conundrum

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Last week, the school year in Saudi Arabia ended.  It is certainly a busy time of the year.  In class, we wrapped up the work that needed to be completed, prepared an awesome presentation for the end of year assembly, took time to reflect and celebrate our accomplishments, and said good-bye to each other before embarking on a summer break.  I had a few end of year meetings with families of kids who required a little more support and attention than their peers throughout the year.  In closing one of these meetings, a father shared his concern that his child would “fail” and need to repeat grade three.

At that moment, I could not help but empathize with this father, sharing his greatest fear for his child.  A fear that his child would not succeed, that they would fail.  I think it is a universal fear shared by all parents.  So, I quickly tried to put him at ease, reassuring him that his child would be moving on to fourth grade.  I also took the opportunity to reinforce the great accomplishments of his child.  Yes there were some challenges, but the year was a success because of the growth and learning that transpired.

Since ending the meeting, I have found myself thinking about failure.  In schools, it is a bit of a four letter word.  Great schools, like great educators, believe in their students and know that for their kids, failure is not an option! In the same way that actors do not mention the play MacBeth on stage for fear of cursing a performance, failure seems to be an abhorrent word in schools.    Kids openly share work that they see as successful.  They also hide their failures.  So do teachers.  When collaborating with colleagues, teachers are more likely to bring to the table what works rather than discuss what didn’t.  It is called being human.  No one likes to hear about or experience failure.

But here is the failure conundrum.  Learning isn’t easy.  School should not be easy. It should be a struggle that requires effort.  Failure, like success, plays an important role in a classroom.  It is only a bad thing if it leads to a dead end and stops the journey.  I believe that to fail is to learn.  Failure simply provides another opportunity to revise, reconsider, deepen understanding, and grow.  It is failure that makes us stronger. It is failure that ultimately leads to success.  Think about it.  How many toddlers learn to walk without falling?  There is a reason people train for a marathon. Two weeks ago I deleted my last blog post while learning to use the WordPress app on my iPad.  I wish I could get it back, but I can’t. I have learned something that will help me in the future.  As a teacher, I’ve had my fair share of lessons that were a failure.  Lessons that despite my best planning and effort, did not produce the desired outcomes.  Subsequent lessons were inevitably better because failure provided me with the opportunity to change and grow.

My parents worked hard to instill the belief that there is no use crying over spilled milk.  Instead, clean it up.  Understand why it happened and turn a potentially negative situation into a positive one.  In that sense, failure is a learning opportunity.  I recognize the importance of supporting students in their learning, but I also don’t ever want to prevent failure either. Ultimately I would be hindering exactly what I am trying to accomplish.

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