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Jan 04

Chris Smeaton

Failing is okay!

I’ve spoken about failure before and how we are instilling an almost risk aversive society of students because failing or anything that resembles adversity is being squashed because of self-esteem! Nothing could be farther from the truth! Let’s be frank, “Failure as a permanent condition is unacceptable but failure as part of the learning cycle and developmental process is essential.”

The world can ill afford our continued “walking on egg-shell” mentality. Our children are facing a resiliency crisis. Mental health issues in children continue to soar and anxiety is becoming so prevalent in schools that it is almost the norm  rather than the exception. While we all want our children to be safe and enjoy a better lifestyle than we did, wrapping them in a cocoon, sheltering them from all adversity, limiting their ability to be responsible and finally keeping them from failing is contributing to quite the opposite.  

Our society needs more people who are solid in the new basics of education, the 4 Cs- Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking and Creativity. None of those competencies can be fully realized in a strictly sheltered environment where failure is not an option. We need innovators to solve the problems created today and that will not occur without failing along the way.

Children and students must be allowed and encouraged to play, to explore, to create and to dream! And the end result must not hinge on only getting the right answer, it must be deeper than that! And if the goal is about learning then, it nust include some aspect of failure! In Tony Wagner’s bestselling book, Creating Innovators- The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World some troubling data is shared that illustrates how we are perpetuating a society of risk aversion. “The average child asks 100 questions a day,” he says. “But by the time a child is 10 or 12, he or she has figured out that it’s much more important to get right answers than to keep asking thoughtful questions.” Often, possessing the “right answer mentality” paralyzes students (especially those who don’t just get it right away) into not making an attempt at the problem period. The fear of failure overrides any desire to deeply learn or simply try.   

Gwen Moran, in her blog post, 5 Ways to encourage kids to grow up to be innovators lists five principles to begin the process. (1) Play, (2) Curiousity, (3) Passion, (4) Fearlessness, and (5) Purpose. All of these principles involve challenges, hills to climb and/or adversity to overcome. While they will grow innovators, more importantly, they will grow resilient children capable of dealing with the many burdens that each will face in adulthood.

We can no longer fear failure in our society, our homes and our classrooms. We must embrace it, teach it and model it! This does not mean we throw our children to the wolves, they still need to be in a safe environment, but not coddled, smothered or suppressed from truly experiencing real life challenges. There is a big difference! Disappointments, challenges, adversity and failures in themselves don’t harm children. The elimination of them…does!

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