Failure = Truant Success

A couple of weeks ago after a Tuesday night #edchat session, I mildly complained to @mbteach that #edchat wasn’t providing the value that I needed it to.  My concerns revolved around a feeling that I had that #edchat was turning into a series of one-liners with each participant simply trying to out tweet the next.  As I conversed back in forth with her, and reflected upon it myself, I realized that the problem was not in either #edchat or the way contributors participate, but in they way that I participated and reflected upon the hour.  While #edchat is limited to 140 characters per quote, my blog is not, so in an effort to digest, reflect upon, and give back to @mbteach and #edchat, I decided to blog about  my most valued hour of PD each week.

This week the topic was creativity, and while there were a lot of great tweets sharing specific examples of teaching strategies that fostered creativity, I ended up tweeting back and forth with a handful of folks (which happens each week) about the importance of fostering failure.  It wasn’t, mind you, that we want to see anyone fail, but more that in order to cultivate risk taking, creativity and problem solving, failure must be accepted as a natural by product.

Joe Bower, on his blog, references the below video and said, “Failure is not only an option, it is inevitable. And we are better for it.”

But, I want to challenge this notion of failure just a bit.  Isn’t failure just a construct that we have created?  Kids do not know what failure is until we have taught it to them.  What if we celebrated their successes instead of identifying their failures?  Would students succeed at the same levels they do today?  Do they need to experience failure to learn?  Why do we even say that students have failed?  In our system, failure is simply a function of time.  We allow students a certain amount of time to either show competency, or more likely, produce enough work to show that they have not “failed” (however it’s locally defined).   Their only failure, however, is their inability to meet our arbitrary time line.  Does learning really stop after 45 minutes, 9 weeks or 1 semester?  Why does Algebra have to be learning between September 1st and June 15th?  The fact of the matter is, we fail kids because we establish a single time line for all, despite the fact that we know that students learn differently and at different rates.

By our time-dependent definition of failure, our students never fail, their simply truant with their success.

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5 Responses to Failure = Truant Success

  1. Deven Black says:

    The answer to your questions really depend on one’s definition of ‘failure’. The most common definition I can find is essentially that failure is a state of not achieving the desired outcome of an action or process or a series of actions or processes.

    By this definition, failure can occur in a moment or over months or years. The problem with school is not that we limit the time for eventual success to one period, one week, or any other unit of time, it is that once we pronounce something or someone a failure that pronouncement is absolute and without remedy.

    If we define ‘success’ as a process instead of the momentary triumph, ‘failure’ becomes an essential part of the journey.

    In school and in other systems, success without failure should be an indication that the challenge encountered was not rigorous enough.

    • tbaldasaro says:

      Deven,

      You absolutely hit this on the head. Success is full of ups and downs, but because we measure so often in one place and one time, our students become victims of our constraints and labels. Unfortunately, our system is not flexible enough, to meet the demands of each student. Instead, students need to fit within our demands, thus the term “failure”.

      I appreciate the read and the comment.

      Best,
      Tony

  2. Bonitadee says:

    Nice post! Yes, we need to turn failure on it’s head if we are going to promote creativity and innovation. Is there a different word/phrase that we could replace failure (and mistake) with? I will be thinking on it:)

    • tbaldasaro says:

      If you read Howard Glasser, he believes we should grade the following way: A, B, sometimes C, and Not Yet. He writes that we as educators should set the standards for high quality work (which would be a B) and allow all the supports and opportunities students need to achieve that standard. Otherwise, if we accept substandard work, are not we not fostering apathy and ineptitude. (It should be noted that the “sometimes C” would be for those student who try and try again and are just not able to meet the standards of a “B”.) The interesting thing about Glasser is that quite literally, failure is not an option.

  3. Sheila Lane says:

    Labeling students failures, as an absolute, is wrong, but failure is not wrong, some good examples are proven by the people in the fired video. Nurturing student successes is critical especially to those students who never have a pat on the back or don’t believe in their selves. But we need to teach that to fail is not a sin or can’t ever be undone but another challenge to better oneself. By teaching students that failure in not a permanent imperfection but a bump in the road of life, gives them the power to try again. Life is full of bumps, it is how you “land” and move onto the next one is what makes the difference.

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