[Abecedary of Reflection] Failure

F: Failure

CCC work by 123rf.com

CCC work by 123rf.com

Such a negative word.

So often teachers live in fear of failure. Failing our students, failing administrator’s evaluations, failing the state or the federal government’s requirements. Feeling like a failure.

Students do everything in their power to impress us and avoid failure.

But what is failure really? I believe that failure provides us with opportunities to learn and improve. I feel that if we redefined failure, we would give ourselves the chance to become more reflective about our practice and more willing to start over again.

As I have worked on this post and reflected on my thoughts about failure, I came across this article on ASCD about changing our perspective on failure in the classroom. This article and my reflections on failure remind me of an experience with my mom at the beach one summer day. My mom and I were watching a dad play with his three young children- running in and out of the ocean, building sand castles, and having a great time. When one of the kids fell down, the father reacted by smiling and saying something like, “Okay, let’s try again!”. The child smiled and hopped up, ready to play some more. My mom and discussed how we often observed mothers react by saying, “Oh no, are you okay?” which led to a child crying and feeling sad or upset, as if they had failed and could not fix their mistake. This example isn’t meant to be a lesson in parenting (or even a commentary on the different styles of men and women!), but to help us reflect on our attitudes and beliefs about failure.

I recently created a board on Pinterest called “Learning from Mistakes” to go along with a source set I was creating to fit the theme of “If at first you don’t succeed…”. The pins on this board are examples of the lessons we can take from failures. To me, this is all part of a journey of learning- we are all working to become “our next best selves,” as one of my professor recently said.

Reflective questions to consider:

  • How can your mistakes, or failures, help you become better tomorrow than you were yesterday?
  • How can we change the definition of failure for students in schools?  What about for teachers?
  • What have you succeeded at, after an initial failure?
  • How can redefining failure develop a growth mindset?

Abecedary of Reflection:

About Amy's Reflections

Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services in Southern CA, taking time to reflect on leadership and learning
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6 Responses to [Abecedary of Reflection] Failure

  1. Lauren says:

    Well said! One thing I do in my classroom is to post positive quotes about picking yourself up from failure. If a student fails, they are directed to find the quote on the board that speaks to them. There are about 30 quotes to choose from. I also find myself looking at the board after a tough lesson or difficult day. Many students have adopted a particular quote as a mantra for themselves. A popular one is Neil Gaimen’s quote, ” I hope that in this year to come you make a lot of mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.” We started the year with dissecting this quote as a class and it hangs on the door as a daily reminder.

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