The word “failure” has such an awful ring to it. It is, however, how we learn. In order to do so, though, one needs to take risks. It’s something that I ask my students to do every day, and I am often in awe at their willingness to put themselves out on a limb and try new things. And if I’m asking my students to do this, am I modeling it for them?
There’s a beautiful sentence in my school’s values statement: “We foster resilience and expect all to search and find, to fail and learn, to risk and succeed in a changing world.”
As adults, risking and failing can be difficult to do, but we must. The important thing, though, is that we do it fast, and learn quickly.
Last week, at a suggestion of a friend in celebration of poetry month, I introduced my kids to Clerihews. They’re short four line poems that have no particular rhythm or meter. They do have an aabb rhyme scheme, and the subject of the poem just has to be about a person (real or fictional). We decided to write them using powerpoint. We focused the instruction and questions on the poem and then headed to the computers to create our slides. What amazed me was how quickly kids took risks, clicking buttons and trying new things to add elements to their slide. When some had questions like, “how do you change the font?” I simply replied, “Look at all the buttons and tools and see if you can figure it out for yourself.” Of course, they did.
The risks they had to take – first with the poetry, playing with words and rhyme, and second with a tech tool they had very little practice using, didn’t faze them one bit. The only ‘failure’ was a child who didn’t save his work to his file, but he learned something valuable and he learned it quickly.
How often do teachers take risks, and whether they fail or succeed, are they learning from those risks? We can learn so much from our mistakes. If we allow ourselves.
I was thrilled to hear our that we secured Sal Khan for the keynote at the fall conference for PNAIS (a committee I’m proud to be on). I’m excited not because of his product (I’ve actually experimented with Khan Academy a little bit with my students and it has its shortcomings), but I’m excited because of he brings the innovative message of flipping the classroom. I’m excited about the risk involved in bringing on a speaker like that to a group of teachers. I’m excited at the potential learning, discourse, and discussions we are sure to have.
April’s issue of the Harvard Business Review was all about failure. And the TED talk below from Kathryn Shulz on being wrong really highlights the importance of learning from mistakes.