Failing Forward

So I was listening to a great podcast the other day, which talked about the opportunity that we have as educators to redefine the word “failure” with our students, and the responsibility that we have as mentors to change the mindset that is typically associated with failing within our schools. Failing (for most students and teachers) has a deeply ingrained negative connotation, and the strange idea of failing as a “positive celebration” seems foreign and paradoxical to most of us. This wonderful podcast went on to suggest that educators should not only encourage and celebrate a student’s failures, but that all schools should adopt the notion of “Failing Forward” as one of their essential qualities of a learner. I first heard of this term, “Failing Forward”, from an amazing educational leader at the International School of Bangkok, named Kelly Armitage. She mentioned that ISB used this idea throughout their school with the belief that by celebrating a student’s effort, growth, and risk taking mentality, the stigma would eventually change to the point where success and failure became synonymous in the minds of their kids……..

I decided to dig a little deeper into the notion of celebrating failure with our own students, and I stumbled upon a few great examples of where this is paying huge dividends. I read about a few master teachers at other quality International Schools around the world who have developed classroom cultures which promote, encourage, and reward failure to the point where kids receive standing ovations when they take a risk and fail…….they even keep growth charts of the class’s greatest failures, which outline and clearly demonstrate the learning that came directly out of every failed attempt by a student. These teachers drill into the minds of every one of their kids that the only “stupid” or “silly’ questions are the ones that are not asked, and they give rewards at the end of each week for the student who tried and failed the most. They spend the entire year with their classes bringing to light their belief that learning and growth and student achievement simply cannot happen unless failure is a part of the process. These inspiring teachers all mention that because of their focus on failure, their kids come to class everyday truly ready to learn, and free from the weight of shame, embarrassment, fear, or intimidation…………and that’s made all the difference.

Think about all the times in your own life where you didn’t answer or ask a question simply because you were nervous about being judged, or made fun of, or embarrassed and thought less of by your peers or colleagues or bosses…….I bet it happens to many of us even now as confident and educated adults. Now imagine all of the missed learning opportunities throughout  our collective lives that have stemmed from this fear of failure… I bet if we poll our students this week with the simple question, “Is failure good or bad?”, we’ll get some sad and discouraging results…….Looking back, I realize that for me, the greatest lessons and the most profound learning that happened throughout my life resulted because of all the times I’ve failed…..I guess you could say that I’m thankful that I’ve been such a failure! So with that I mind, I’d like to challenge you all in the future to work hard and begin to change the mindset, the stigma, and the negative association that comes with the idea of failing. Let’s celebrate it and create a culture where taking risks is the norm, and asking “silly” questions is rewarded to a point where standing ovations become commonplace. Have a great week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week………
If you fell down yesterday, stand up today — H.G. Wells

Article #1 – If You Have to Fail – Fail Forward

Article #2 – Learning From Failure

TED Talk – Rita Pierson (Every Kid Needs a Champion)

TED Talk – Angela Lee Duckworth (The Key to Success- Grit)

Book Recommendation – John C. Maxwell
Failing Forward: How to Make the Most of Your Mistakes