We Must Create Room for Failure and Mean It

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“…I failed…” the disappointment leaks from my student as he looks at his contraption.

I am stopped by his words because it is March and we have been trying to embrace failure since September.  Failure is our friend, failure is something we learn from.  Failure is not the “f” word.  Not in this room.

And yet, here he sits, so upset with himself that I am not even sure I have the words to fix it.

I am reminded that embracing failure is not just a line we say to our students.  We must fully live it out in our rooms.  We must admit our own failures, I know I do, and then celebrate the learning that happens from them.  But more importantly we must assess students not just on how successful they were with something but also their persistence in trying.  We must move away from the thinking that to succeed means that the project or product is correct and adopt the notion that success can take on many shapes.  That perhaps success to one child is that they didn’t give up.  To another that they attempted in the first place.

This is not to say that students should not be pushed to succeed.  Of course they should.  All students need success in order to continue learning.  But it is to say that we need to assess students on more than their successes.  That we need a whole child approach that celebrates all of the steps in the journey without reducing them to just a little number.  Grades or numbers can never do that for us but our words can.

It took me a few seconds but I finally found the words to say.  “You didn’t fail, you tried and it didn’t work.  There is a big difference.  Now what can we do to make it better?” I walk away and give him time to think.

At the end of the day he comes up, says “I am taking it home to show my brother, I think I found a way to fix it.”  He smiles and leaves.

Failure is not something we should just pretend to accept – our actions, our words, our assessments must embrace it to.  We must celebrate the failures and give students time to learn from them.  We must discuss the growth, the trial, and the ideas.  We must be more than a motivational poster.

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6 thoughts on “We Must Create Room for Failure and Mean It

  1. Sofia Rhodes says:

    We have to believe one thing that failure is the first step to success.We have to learn from our failures and invent new ways to achieve success.

  2. […] "…I failed…" the disappointment leaks from my student as he looks at his contraption. I am stopped by his words because it is March and we have been trying to embrace failure since September. …  […]

  3. […] "…I failed…" the disappointment leaks from my student as he looks at his contraption. I am stopped by his words because it is March and we have been trying to embrace failure since September. …  […]

  4. […] We Must Create Room for Failure and Mean It | Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension […]

  5. […] Pernille Ripp writes about embracing failure in the classroom. […]

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