The Gift of Failure

3312922051_580a6e9625_nLife is interesting. You think you’re going to end up in one place, and, surprise, you end up in another. I think that’s very much like the world we’re preparing our students for. Nobody really knows what the world will look like 10 years from now. We’re preparing students for jobs that don’t exist, using technology that hasn’t been invented, to solve problems we don’t know about. How do we do that? It’s not by focusing on content. Instead, it’s about skills. And for me, what’s the most important one? The ability to learn.

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn – Alvin Toffler

Most of this process involves a lot of failure. When I fail, I have a choice. I can blame it on external factors, or I can dig down deep, develop the grit & tenacity necessary & figure out how to create something out of a situation that didn’t go right.  And while I have a Professional Growth Plan that I need to work on each year as a teacher, failure isn’t  a category.

Our students need this too. However, we live in a culture that abhors failure. Although at times, we like to pretend this isn’t so.  When our students fail, we rattle off some line about Thomas Edison not really failing, he just discovered 100’s of ways not to create a light bulb.  I’m not sure our students are really inspired by that. Instead, most students try to avoid failing.  The “A” is the goal, rather than the process of learning.

Let’s take a look at the truth. Professional athletes who fail too often eventually get cut or traded.  Athletes with serious character flaws are considered damaged goods. Coaches who lose too many games are fired.  Celebrities who fail are the stuff of weekly tabloids. We’re an unforgiving culture.  It seems the only time we talk about failure as a pep talk tend to include people who eventually succeed in momentous ways.  Bill Gates & Steve Jobs dropped out of college. Yep, but we don’t talk or celebrate average people who drop out of college & get average jobs.

So I think if we’re going to talk to our students about failure, we need to be authentic. We need to be real about the culture we live in. That it’s a culture that celebrates success and abhors failure. That celebrating failure is bucking the trend. It goes against everything most people believe in.

I think if our students make it through school without ever failing, we’ve failed them. Badly. Because life involves a lot of figuring out how to do something a different way. It requires a lot of problem solving. And sometimes when things go wrong, it is other people’s fault, but getting stuck there isn’t going to help us. Instead, we need to learn, unlearn, and relearn.

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. Furthermore, I am Buck Institute for Education National Faculty member
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10 Responses to The Gift of Failure

  1. thehunni says:

    I do love you Shelley Wright! I needed that today! Thank you for your wisdom and your ability to articulate important lessons so clearly! Cheers! Pamela

  2. howard zugman says:

    As usual Shelley you’re right on the money.

  3. Pingback: The Gift of Failure | Leadership to change our ...

  4. Robin M.Wright says:

    Thank you Shelley, there is so much more for me to learn. Thank you for pointing a direction towards needed solutions. The accelerating pace of increasing knowledge demands a new approach to teaching.

  5. Pingback: The Gift of Failure | Management |

  6. PhysicsNick says:

    Whilst I agree about much of what you say, I completely disagree about your philosophy of learning skills vs content.
    Of course skills are requisite (especially the skill of learning) but as a Physics teacher, the acquired knowledge (of content) is paramount. In this respect, I find much of the philosophy of current pedagogy to be misaligned with my subject.

  7. Melanie Lee says:

    I think this is a post every educator should read. Our school system is failing because we have failed to change it despite the world around us changing. Schools are more focused on having exemplary test scores than they are on making sure their students have the skills necessary to succeed in life. I really couldn’t tell you anything I learned in grade school that helped me get through life. College either for that matter. Most of the things I know about life and success were self- taught, through trial and error. I think more educators should concentrate on teaching their students how to make their students’ dreams come true which would require them to teach them how to learn. Great post!

  8. Vikki says:

    Fabulous post!

  9. Great Post. Thanks so Much. Check out this amazing next generation video.

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