Cultivating a Culture of Failure

Somewhere along the line we decided that failure was a bad thing — something to be avoided at all costs, as if that’s possible.  Even though we tell our kids that Edison failed hundreds of times before he invented the light bulb, we keep perpetuating  school cultures that abhor failure. Our students likely know most of what we’re saying is lip-service.

It could be all of the testing. It could be current grading practices. It could be the lack of play in many of our classrooms.  This needs to change.

On Monday, I’m going to show my students this video:

And then we’re going to talk about their experience with failure in school and our classroom.  What needs to change will come from that conversation.

I’ve been reflecting on what the most important things are for my students to learn. And none of the subect matter I teach comes to mind.

Instead, my students need to learn to embrace failure and allow it to be their teacher.

Fear of failure prevents us from taking risks.  Prevents us from reaching out to others. Prevents us from becoming who we are meant to be.

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About shelleywright

I love education & learning, which likely explains why I'm a teacher. My areas are ELA, Sr. sciences, and technology. My classroom is best described as a student-centred, tech embedded pbl/inquiry learning environment. I am currently a PhD student in the area of Curriculum and Instruction. My focus is play-based learning in high school, and it's impact on brain development.
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26 Responses to Cultivating a Culture of Failure

  1. Andrew says:

    Yes, good on you Shelly. This message needs to be communicated.
    I have a poster in my classroom which reads “FAIL…
    F FIRST
    A ATTEMPT
    I IN
    LEARNING”

    We continually refer back to it in a number of contexts, but your post has reinforced the importance of this.

  2. kathmcg1 says:

    Some wonderful thoughts. If we bubble wrap our kids/ students we set them up for failure later in life.

  3. such an important topic! we really must deal with this head on!
    Good for you!
    Naomi

  4. Pingback: Failure is a key to success | cmslearning1

  5. Steve says:

    Great post! I think you are right on ant I completely agree with you. I try to cultivate an environment that embraces failure in my classroom, but it’s easie said than done. Seems like such a message runs contrary to the one kids get throughout their experiences in school. I dnt think I’ve talked about this enough explicitly, though. I think I’ll be borrowing your idea….. Thanks!

  6. Rayleen says:

    Shelley, you continue to inspire me! I am so looking forward to working and learning with you over the next year!

    • Thanks, Rayleen, I’m looking forward to learning from you too! Lori actually showed this video Friday afternoon. Watching it made me realize that my students will only be free to learn, once they’re free to fail.

  7. CarolHBates says:

    Great post, Shelley. Students as well as instructors should be encouraged to attempt new things without fear of failure. The video is inspiring.

  8. Teresawraight says:

    It is funny I try to be so positive and get students to keep trying, but my own children at home, I say, that sucks you didn’t make the team, whatever, get on with it wil have to try harder next time. I believe my own children are better for it lol. I tell people all the time my children have had many character building experiences and it is true!

  9. Pingback: Cultivating a Culture of Failure | Leading Schools | Scoop.it

  10. Shelley, I have written about my own failures in education a bit and I think it is important that not only everybody fail, but everybody be given the opportunity to fail. More specifically, I believe ed leaders need to empower others to take advantage of opportunities that could lead to failure, and them be there to support their learning and growth from those opportunities. Likewise, I think teachers need to do the same. As always… great post. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks, Tony. I completely agree with you. I think we would all be better teachers and learners if we felt the freedom to fail and share it with others. I wonder if it would help dissipate the isolation we so often feel in this job.

  11. Heather ross says:

    Thanks for sharing that video. I’m going to be giving several workshops to faculty in the next few months on a variety of topics. I think I’ll showing them this video a lot.

  12. mnprincipal says:

    If we want our students to understand that failing is OK then we have to re-think how we grade. Students need chances to always demonstrate that they have learned the objectives, especially after they have failed an assignment or assessment.

  13. Kelli says:

    Your posts give me a lot to think about and challenge me in the way I need to be challenged in my journey of learning how to be a “good teacher” (ie: creating inquiry-based / student-driven learning opportunities,). I am seeing the value of and need to “turn the tables” towards the students being the driving force of their learning experiences. The experiences you share inspire and motivate me. There are many fears that have held me (and still hold me) back from being the teacher I want to be. I admire your risk-taking. I have a question: How do the other teachers in your building respond to how you set up your classroom?

    • The staff that I work with have been really supportive, so I’ve been very fortunate. I know that’s not the case for everyone who has tried to make changes like this. But I’ve found as I try new things, others are inspired to try new things too.

      Earlier in the semester, my students received permission to paint my classroom (crazy & a first!) But it turned out beautifully. Within days there were a flurry of requests from other teachers who wanted to be able to do their rooms to.

  14. So true and the sooner our students learn this the more open they are to learning to succeed.

  15. keithrispin says:

    Bravo! Well said!

    I love failure. I tell my kids every year that failure IS an option and you will probably learn more form it then success. Most do not buy into it but hey I gotta try.

    We live in a twisted world where popular cultured says that success, fame and fortune has to be immediate or you are deemed to be worthless. The middle ground along with the middle class have been erased from the face of the earth.

    It has become a succeed or perish world

  16. Pingback: EdTech | MichaelDFlint | Failure Must be an Option

  17. I agree. I hope, as this mentality trickles throughout the school system that our students really will realize it’s true. Keep up the good work!

  18. I love this blog!! I have a “Mistake Jar” in my 4th grade classroom! Everytime someone makes a mistake and really learns from it and then goes a step further to share it with the class, we put a beautiful glass pebble in the “Mistake Jar.” When the jar is full we will have a celebration to celebrate all that we learned as a community together.

  19. faerinelda says:

    I LOVE this post! I am so grateful to have found your blog. I’m studying at University for the first time and your past posts are helping me get my head around learning. I was told recently that I shouldn’t fear failure because mistakes bring learning & true knowledge. :)

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