After hearing Diana Laufenberg speak about failure being instructional, I was completely inspired by that idea and wrote a blog posting about it. Unfortunately, that post no longer exist. During a conversation at ISTE, I allowed myself to be intimidated by the passion of George Couros and his postion on failure. George believes that the word “fail” needs to be removed from the educational jargon. He is so passionate about it that his face turns entirely red when he speaks and you just feel what he means. He’s believable and intimidating. My failure in this conversation was allowing my beliefs to be silenced on the basis of a word and a blog posting that he never even read. Then again, failure IS instructional which is why I can finally respond with what I learned from my failure of standing up for what my beliefs are.
In a nutshell, George Couros told me that in lieu of failure, we should just focus on learning. We shouldn’t say that failure is okay because it is not okay for a student to fail a class. After telling him that I do whatever is necessary to help students avoid failure, he kindly reminded me that I must not really believe that failure is okay because I’m in fact NOT allowing my students to fail, yet I say that I encourage failure. George made a valid point in saying that failure gives the impression of being the end, an end without recovery. He believes that when one changes course and tries something new, it is in fact NOT a failure but something else entirely. In that moment, I was at such a loss of words, that in lieu of standing my ground, I hit delete and the conversation ended at that. This was not just a failure on my part, but an Epic Fail…one that was clearly Instructional.
Failure is a deeply personal idea. No one sets out to fail, but it happens. As a high school teacher, I’ve seen dozens of kids drop out of school because of their inability to rise above failure. We’ve walked by adults everyday during this conference who at one point probably had jobs, families and homes yet some circumstance, which they have yet to rise from, leaves them living on the streets. I can’t think of a single invention that worked on the first try. There was failure and a lot of it. Failure, by definition, means lack of success. The word itself is in fact finite. However, from failure, there can be perseverance and that is where the learning comes from. Perseverance is not natural but a behavior which can only be learned from failure. We have to teach that and heck we still have to learn it ourselves. We choose to allow the finiteness of failure. Having the strength to persevere in spite of failing stems from understanding that there are other paths if we are willing to try.
When I say that I am “Inspired to Fail”, I’m saying that I am motivated to try new ideas and take risk knowing that failure can happen. I do it with the understanding that my failure is not an end but a lesson in what NOT to do as I dust off and start over. Knowing what to do when failure happens is an important lesson and must never be removed from education.
I would love to hear more thoughts on the idea of failure. Please feel free to comment and join the conversation.