Screenshot 2015-10-26 14.09.05

Failing or Flailing?

On a resent episode of  Mitch Joel’s podcast Six Pixels of Separation, Mitch talks with Seth Godin about his book What To Do When It’s Your Turn and It’s Always Your Turn . During the interview Seth Godin talks about Failing and Flailing as being the difference between learning from failure and doing something that has little chance of learning moving to success. As Mitch points out, it’s one letter difference but it’s a big difference.

This had me thinking about change in education.

In my experience, the change that takes place in schools isn’t clearly explained for everyone. The “Why” of the change is sometimes fuzzy. ‘It will improve ___________ ‘ – is one of the main reasons touted for the change yet it doesn’t really delve into the nuances of why THIS is important. The process is started – the ‘What and How’ are meticulously laid out for everyone and a timeline for implementation is set. People move forward implementing change, data is collected but the ‘Why’ is left up in the air, an unspoken truth – “All good teachers know why”. A great deal of flailing is happening and, maybe, some success but it becomes hard to separate the success from the over-enthusiasm for failure.

Failing has almost become an end in and of itself – “If you aren’t failing, you aren’t trying” is something I’ve heard quite often. Yet, what are we learning from this Failing? Why is it so important that we need to fail? Why are we doing this? How will we know if we are successful?

FAIL has become an acronym for First Attempt In Learning. It’s a great way to visually show students that mistakes happen and it’s okay. But what is learned from the failure?  As I’ve written about before, is there a plan for reflecting on failure so it can lead to success? As Carol Dweck points out in her discussion of a growth mindset

We also need to remember that effort is a means to an end to the goal of learning and improving. Too often nowadays, praise is given to students who are putting forth effort, but not learning, in order to make them feel good in the moment: “Great effort! You tried your best!” It’s good that the students tried, but it’s not good that they’re not learning. The growth-mindset approach helps children feel good in the short and long terms, by helping them thrive on challenges and setbacks on their way to learning. When they’re stuck, teachers can appreciate their work so far, but add: “Let’s talk about what you’ve tried, and what you can try next.”

Failing is part of learning but it’s not the goal of learning. Understanding ‘Why’ we have failed is important in learning to succeed not an end goal in the process. If there is no process for reflection and new action, then failing really is flailing.

Things to Think About

How does a failure help you in moving to success?

What are you doing to support others to learn from their failures in order that they may succeed?

Is there failure because there is a lack of clarity about ‘WHY’?

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