Failure is a big part of life. Resilience should be too, but is not always emphasized to the same degree. Sometimes, when I hear teachers talk about how they want their students to fail, and fail often, it rings hollow. I don’t want my students to fail a lot. I want them to know how to appropriately respond to failure. I want my students to take risks, experiment, and not be afraid to fail and admit failure, but my goal is not to have my students failing constantly. If I were a boss, would I want an employee who constantly fails? No, not at all, instead I would want an employee who, when he or she fails, knows how to resiliently bounce back, fix his or her mistakes, and do better.
Behavior is a strong indicator of future success. If I can teach a student how to behave appropriately in response to failure, I am doing a good job in teaching them about failure. I teach pre-kindergarten through fourth grade, and some of my students crumble when they fail. When they try something and it doesn’t work, I often hear that it is too hard, or that they don’t know how to do it, or sometimes they just give up and cry. My job as an educator is to help coach them through these moments. I need them to recognize their mistakes, understand why they failed, and come up with a solution that has a better chance of working. I want my students to learn how to independently accomplish tasks by experimenting with systems and solutions. That behavior will help them be very successful in life.
Students also need to understand that sometimes a solution or system is not working, and that it is okay. It is a waste of time to continue working on an idea that is not going to work. They need to learn to adjust and move their efforts into something that they have determined has a better chance of working. I want them to be resilient, and keep trying, but also be smart about it. That can a very valuable lesson, and something that can sometimes get lost when teachers are telling them to keep trying.
I think one of the best ways to teach students about failure is to model failure. I fail enough that I have plenty of opportunities to share my failures. I tell my students about my failures as I plan their projects, or sometimes while we are in the middle of a project and something does not work out, or about personal failures. Teachers also need to take advantage of those teachable moments where students fail. I try not to let a student say they can’t do something, or that it is too hard. I tell them they can figure it out, we just need to work through it as we can do with any problem. I also discourage those students who talk about how easy things are for them because it adds to the stigma of a student admitting struggle.
Brandon Bogumil is a teacher of Design Thinking, Problem-Solving, and Coding. He is also very passionate about Project Based Learning. He hopes that his experiences will help you learn about these ideas and grow into a beautiful butterfly! Thank you Brian Best for my banner and logo and for writing funny things!