I was giving a presentation to a group of parents last week and I was discussing Habits of Mind. As I was talking about Perseverance, I mentioned the importance of allowing kids to fail. I mentioned that it was important to model failure for students and a parent asked the question, “Do many teachers currently model failure in their classrooms?” As I was skating around an adequate answer, our Superintendent, Jeff Baier, added into the conversation by saying, “It’s human nature to not want to fail. No one wants to fail in front of anyone. Parents don’t want to fail in front of their children so it’s difficult for teachers to fail in front of students.” That’s why he’s our Superintendent. He zeroed in on the main issue, human nature, which made me think about failure and reframe the idea of how best to teach young people how to fail. As I pondered, I thought, maybe it’s not about modeling failure, but about modeling our reaction to failure.
No one wants to fail and no one sets out to fail when they start something, however, failing is what causes us to learn the most when given the opportunity. That is the part we need to model, both teachers and parents. How do we react to failure? Whether it’s our own or someone elses, we need to have a strategy in place. We can have a negative reaction which includes yelling, scolding, and punishing, or we can take the positive road and reflect, assess, and help rebuild. I’ve seen both happen in classrooms. I know that circumstances can sometime dictate which reaction is required, but hopefully even the negative approach ends in some assessment and reflection so learning can occur.
Along with failure comes fear. I’ve been reading a YA book, Divergent, by Veronica Roth, where young people, living in a fractured dystopian society must learn to manage fear. They do this by creating a false fear landscape simulation where they confront their worst scenarios and learn to overcome. As teachers, we can help students with this same strategy. When faced with fear of failing, ask “What are the three worst things that can happen?” Having students voice their fears and talk through consequences as well as develop a plan of dealing with each, takes away the anxiety.
Teaching students how to react to failure is a lifelong skill and what leads to persistance. Helping them confront the scariness of trying, can help them attempt greatness, knowing that failure is part of the experience and there’s a plan for that. Human nature does not enjoy failure, but life continually throws us obstacles that cause us to fail, and then rise to success.
By: Kami Thordarson, Innovative Strategies Coach