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.