I was waiting on line for a book to be autographed while at the recent SLJ Leadership Summit in Austin, Texas and got into a conversation with Elyssa Malespina, an excellent school librarian and occasional contributor to School Librarian’s Workshop. I mentioned my disastrous first years on the job and what I learned about myself and librarianship as a result. She was surprised, somehow thinking I was always successful and then referred to failures in her past and how they led to her current success.
It struck the two of us how we have neglected to encourage students to fail as part of their education. We work so hard to make them successful, we inadvertently cause them to fear failure, avoiding situations where they might fail. Almost nothing is learned from success. We only learn from our failures, and by reducing (or eliminating) opportunities to fail we are producing students who don’t have “grit.” Students’ inability to cope with failure is a growing concern and one we need to address.
In addition to building “failing, learning, (maybe failing again, learning), succeeding” into our instructional practices, we can help students be more open to the pain and discomfort of getting it wrong by sharing our own experiences with them. It makes us more human and lets them see successful adults who have failed at something and how the experience was an invaluable step towards their future success.
Talk to students about how willing they are to fail in a video game – and get killed. They immediately learn what they did wrong, go back to the game and with the new knowledge move on—until they are killed again and the process is repeated. Remember the old story of the man, moved by a butterfly’s trying to get out of a cocoon, sliced it open to ease the way. The butterfly fell to the ground. Only by struggling would the butterfly develop the muscles necessary for flying. Let’s teach our students the value of failing so they learn how to fly.
What successes have you had that came after failing?