Over the years I have noticed a significant and concerning trend that is occurring in our classrooms. The issue has to do with a fear of failure.
We are scared to let students fail. We are creating a generation of individuals who’s self-esteem is dependent on constant success. It’s unrealistic, in the real world people will fail. Most adults will tell you that there were job interviews that didn’t go well. This is life. The old saying still holds true.
“You win some and you lose some.”
Our children need to understand this if they are to become resilient and confident adults. The reality is we are creating a generation of individuals who will struggle to cope with the world that does not always hand them a trophy for participation. I would argue we have lost a valuable learning tool by taking away a child’s ability to fail.
There was a time in education when there were no considerations for things like learning disabilities, or family situations that might hinder a child’s ability to succeed. Kids that needed patience and support truly suffered because the system didn’t care. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the fact that we as a society and as educational institutions never let children fail in a safe and supportive environment. We don’t teach children to get back up and try again. It’s taking its toll on their self-esteem. They view failure as a dead end. They avoid taking risks for fear of failure. Alina Tugend’s book “Better By Mistake” highlights how a fear of failure hinders our ability to succeed.
But it’s not just Tugend who writes about the importance of learning through Trial and Error. Carol Dweck has been touting the importance of maintaining a “Growth Mindset” for years. Her theories push the idea that we as educators and parents should highlight effort over the importance of getting things “correct”. She shows definitively, through her research that individuals who are willing to take risks and attribute their success to effort become more productive and creative members of society.
As a teacher, my goal is to help students grow and to push themselves to be successful. In my mind, “successful” means they are confident, excited to take risks, work well with their peers and are generally happy. The question is how do I take the ideas and theories of Tugend and Dweck and incorporate them into my classroom. How do I help my students change their mindset?
It’s taken me a long time to really find some strategies that help students and parents understand the importance of trial and error. I’m not always successful. There are parents and students who just don’t get it. The road I’ve chosen isn’t easy but I believe it’s a valuable one. I am proud to say my classroom lives by the very same motto that Miss Frizzle used in her classroom.
“Take chances, Make Mistakes, Get Messy.” I post this philosophy at the front of my classroom and I make a point of promoting it from the very first day of class. We are humans! We will make mistakes and that is okay.
Mistakes are a way of moving forward and learning they are not the end of the world. I don’t allow my students to retake tests. The mark they receive is what they get. I ask them instead “Knowing what you know now. What would you do differently?” They can learn from this. The reality is I think they learn more this way than if they receive 90% on every test they take. Students can find this difficult. It takes them some time to understand why I do things this way. In the end, most appreciate this idea and become better students because they analyze their mistakes and think critically about their learning.
I hope that my students leave my class at the end of the year as stronger individuals that are more determined and confident. In today’s society, with the pace of change students will have to adapt quickly, experiment with new technology and learn on the go. Being confident enough to make a mistake and keep going is just one of those learning skills they must have for success.