When failing became a good thing

I had the opportunity to attend the annual conference for the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) here in Houston this past month.  If you have ever attended an annual conference of any sort you will know that there are themes that become ubiquitous talking points and often evolve into common calls to action.  If I had to boil down the sessions that I attended into a single idea it would be this: failing is good.  While initially counterintuitive, the more you think about it, the better failing is going to sound.  Gone are the days where we, and most importantly our students, should be afraid of getting it wrong; embrace the idea of falling on your face.  Here’s why:

  • Failing means you’re taking risks.  Consider the monkey bars – remember when you couldn’t get past the second bar?  Did you give up on the monkey bars at that point?  Did you willingly accept a monkey bar-less existence?  Nope.  You picked yourself up, tried again, and eventually got the hang of it.  Learning isn’t any different.  Falling down on the playground is 100% acceptable and that’s the way it should be in the classroom as well.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
  • Failing is easy to manage with a growth mindset, it is debilitating when you have a fixed mindset.  Carol Dweck (http://goo.gl/XzTCni) tells us that individuals that believe hard work and dedication lead to growth will outperform those that don’t.  Folks with a growth mindset don’t mind failing.  Heck, I bet they expect to fail and kind of get upset if they don’t!
  • Leaders fail.  The power of so many leadership stories is the number of failures and setbacks leaders manage to overcome.  Henry Ford was broke, Bill Gates dropped out of school, and Mark Cuban couldn’t even work as a waiter (http://goo.gl/p13gGl), failing shouldn’t be the end, it should be a footnote your success story.

It comes down to is this: we will all have lots of opportunities to give up, throw in the towel, or turn back.  Leaders fail and get back up.  Our young people need to realize that homework is going to get lost, a quiz will get failed, and the answer they say aloud to the class may not be the correct one.  One of the keynote speakers from ASCD told the audience that success is an event; mastery is a curved line pursuit.  I like that.  If we perceive our path as one with a fixed ending point then failing before we get there can be debilitating.  If our goal is a pursuit, then failing along the way feels quite different.

There is a great scene (http://goo.gl/C7kHHM) in the movie Meet the Robinsons that sums it up rather nicely.  From failure you learn, from success…not so much.