Posted: 11th July 2016 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

If you’ve been hanging around any educational chats in the last while, you have likely read, discussed or posted your own thoughts on developing risk taking in students.  Whether you have called it grit, building perseverance skills, one of the cute FAIL acronyms (Fail=First Attempt In Learning, etc), or development of problem solving capacity, it all boils down to the same thing.  We are all extolling the benefits of letting kids fail in their learning.

Well, let me tell you, even if it is good for you, failing sucks.

This year, I jumped on the #OneWord bandwagon and set my goal for the year.  You can read about my thinking back in January when I set the goal, here:


The word I chose to represent my goal this year was stretch.    It’s been a busy six months, but as I reflect on how I’ve done on my goal, I find that I have failed far more than I have succeeded in stretching to meet the specific tasks within my goal.

Wait, did I say fail?  But that can’t be!  We don’t really fail anymore, do we?  Besides, the year is only half over.  There is still time to succeed.  Many goals need tweaking along the way once you get into them.  There were extenuating circumstances that affected my progress.

These consoling excuses are all true, but I still have to admit that I have failed.

Much like the experience of our students, I’m not really used to failing.  I was a successful student in school.  I have excelled in the extra curricular activities I choose to pursue (of course, who chooses to pursue the ones they aren’t good at?). I pride myself on successfully completing my to-do lists.  I even feel guilty when I abandon a book I don’t like.  Failure, as society has conditioned us to believe, is not an option.

So, as I sit back now and lick my wounds, I have to reflect on where I go from here.  I still have half a year on my goal of stretching.  Some of my failures are things that I still intend to pursue further armed with some new knowledge, new strategies and from new angles.  Others I am going to admit are currently beyond me (not an easy admission to make) and I’ll spend some time thinking about whether they are things I need to work on at another time.

It’s interesting to note that, in reading over my One Word blog post, I assumed success.  Even though the goals were a stretch, I assumed that I would succeed because I usually set goals for myself that I am eventually successful at.

Now the question is, can I use my failing experiences to help better prepare students to fail too?  (You don’t know how weird it was to write that.  We really ARE conditioned to avoid failure, aren’t we?).  I think so.

  • Failing still feels like, well, failure.  If we are preparing students to experience it, we need to prepare them to know that it doesn’t feel great.  Giving them a FAIL acronym or pat them on the back for developing “grit” doesn’t adequately acknowledge the emotion or frustration they will feel when they fail.
  • Teach students that there will be some goals that are beyond them, some that are well within their reach, and others that they will have to chip away at to succeed.  Learning that not every goal is achievable is a key, although maybe controversial, lesson in critical and reflective thinking.
  • Admit our own failures.  We provide students with role models in everything else, failure mentors shouldn’t be any different.  Using ourselves as those mentors is probably more meaningful to a student than telling them how many times Alexander Graham Bell’s communication inventions failed before he finally placed that first phone call.  If we are their mentors, we can walk them through the ups and downs of failure.
  • Celebrate the successes within the failure.  When I now sit back and reflect on one of my colossal failures this year, I can see glimmers of good stuff within it.  I learned how to do things differently, I made a difference to this person, I changed a practice for the better.  Those are the things I need to build on.  The same would be true of our students when they fail.  We have to do this carefully, though.  Glossing over the failure entirely and only focusing on the good may protect them from the hurt of failure, but may not teach them how to get over it.  We can’t teach students to avoid failure altogether.

Stretching is still my goal for 2016.  Some of my original goals are things I’m still working on.  Others are shifting as conditions have changed.  And some, I have failed.  But I will learn from those and find new ways to stretch.

  1. Hi Kristi;

    Thank you for taking the time to write this and share it. First, it reminds me that I need to reflect on my own #onewordONT from January. Secondly, as someone who fails often, it helps to hear that I am not alone.

    Failing gets you down.

    We talk a good line about failure, but we don’t embrace people who fail either. As you stated, our happy-face acronyms about failing don’t begin to address how much it actually hurts.

    It can also make us “gun-shy” – afraid to try again, afraid to experience the hurt again. It can paralyze us.

    Knowing this can make us better teachers. You have done a beautiful reflection, and I see in this that you have stretched yourself and you have let yourself be quite vulnerable in a public place. A success indeed.

    Thank you for your continued modelling of open practice, and for sharing both the wins and the losses. It makes us all feel like we can keep going in spite of results that don’t align with our best plans!

  2. adunsige says:

    Kristi, I cannot tell you the many ways that I LOVE this post! And yes “love” is a big word and all in capitals here, but I really do think that the emphasis fits. You wrote the post that I wish I wrote. My failure was not necessarily linked to my “one word goal,” but it was still a failure, and it was still hard, and it was still something that I haven’t quite processed yet through blogging. Maybe at some point, I will. (You have me thinking.)

    I’ll admit that in school, I failed a lot. And while I often speak about the power of perseverance and learning from failure (I’ll admit that “grit” isn’t my favourite word), often my approach to failing was to avoid that subject, extracurricular activity, or sport. Then I met with a lot more success, but did I really address the failure? Do we also all have limits, and is it okay to be honest about them? Is it okay to sometimes be okay with failing? I really like your final four points, as preparing students to “fail” is important — including the type of failure when maybe we really do want to put the idea aside and move on.

    I applaud you, Kristi, for so publicly sharing your failure and your true feelings (as hard as that must be to do). I bet you’re not alone in having many of these feelings.


  3. Sue Dunlop says:

    Kristi, failing sucks. There’s no getting around it. For me, it’s about licking my wounds, maybe getting some help, then picking myself up. I hope that is in the cards for you too!

    Even though others may look at your situation and not believe you failed, we are always most critical of ourselves.

    I’m always a phone call away, no matter how hard it might seem to reach out.