The Fear of Failure

Recently, I wrote an article titled, “Are You a Risk Taker?”  The article asked educators, “What risks will you and your colleagues take in 2012-2013 in order to move students closer to the goal of College and Career Readiness?”  One of the biggest obstacles to taking risks is the fear of failure.  After all, who wants to hear students on the back row snickering “Epic Fail” when you attempt to integrate technology or experiment with a new instructional strategy?


 

Failure is part of the learning process.  If K-12 schools are going to make the instructional shifts required by the Common Core State Standards, then failure will be part of the implementation process.  In education, we typically associate the letter grade “F” with failure.  Superintendents, principals, counselors, teachers, and other school staff don’t want to fail students.  However, if we avoid taking risks and continue to operate schools in the same manner then we will fail our students.  Dr. Tony Wagner’s research highlights “Seven Survival Skills Students Need For Their Future.”  The seven skills outlined by Wagner are:  1)  Critical Thinking and Problem Solving; 2) Collaboration Across Networks and Leading By Influence; 3) Agility and Adaptability; 4) Initiative and Entrepreneurship; 5) Effective Oral and Written Communication; 6) Accessing and Analyzing Information; and 7) Curiosity and Imagination.  In order to teach students these skills, educators will need to change assessment practices, reform instructional strategies and assignments, encourage students to become risk takers, and understand that failure is part of learning.

 

 

It has been observed in Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) classes that some of the nation’s brightest students struggle with failure.  The first time some gifted students make a B on a paper, they want to rush to the guidance office and enroll in an honors level course.  Teachers have reported that students become overwhelmed with emotion when their ideas are challenged, because they have always been able to pass other courses with “the right answer.”  College and Career Readiness involves more than having “the right answer.”  Based on the list of skills outlined by Wagner, all students need to be problem solvers, risk takers, and have the ability to think outside the box.  Do our schools currently teach students to think outside the box?  Do high stakes tests, which separate high performing schools from low performing schools, indicate that we are preparing students for college and careers or for selecting “the right answer?”  The era of NCLB brought about many positive changes for K-12 education.  However, the fear of sanctions and public scrutiny left many states and school districts lowering the bar for students.  Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond wrote, “Ironically, states that set high standards risk[ed] having the most schools labeled ‘failing’ under NCLB.”  Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, wroteThe act’s emphasis on test scores as the primary measure of school performance has narrowed the curriculum, and the one-size-fits-all accountability system has mislabeled schools as failures even if their students are demonstrating real academic growth.”

 

 

College and Career Readiness will require failure.  It is not politically correct to promote failing schools, failing teachers, failing superintendents, failing state departments of education, or failing students.  However, when you see people failing you see learning and understanding.  Think of the times in life when you learned a lesson.  Many of these lessons were learned through failure.  Think of the day you were 0-for-3 in Little League or the time you tried to take your bike over a speed bump.  How many times have you tried to cook before you found the secret recipe?  In science class, students learn to experiment and develop a hypothesis.  When you developed your first teacher website, you learned from your mistakes.  If you are a parent, you have made mistakes but they have made you a better parent.   Do you permit failure or are you happy with the “right answer?”  The fear of failure will keep your school from improving.

 

 

Ways You Can Support Failure:

 

 

State Department of Education

·        

  • Provide high quality professional development for educators


  • Feature stories of Failure and How School Districts Implemented Change

·        

  • Rather than promoting the annual Teacher of the Year, promote the Professional Learning Community of the Year

·        

  • Encourage school districts to take risks and support risk taking efforts

 

 

Superintendent

·        

  • Encourage building principals to take risks and fail

·        

  • Feature stories of Failure and How Schools Implemented Change

·        

  • Rather than promoting the annual Teacher of the Year, promote the Professional Learning Community of the Year

·        

  • Encourage schools to take risks and support risk taking efforts
    (i.e., instructional shifts, 1:1 classrooms, assessment shifts, collaborative efforts, raising achievement and closing gaps, and promoting college and career readiness for all students)

 

Principal

·        

  • Encourage teachers and school staff to take risks and fail

·        

  • Feature stories of Failure and How School Staff Implemented Change

·        

  • Rather than promoting the annual Teacher of the Year, promote the Professional Learning Team of the Year

·        

  • Encourage school staff to take risks and support risk taking efforts
    (i.e., instructional shifts, 1:1 classrooms, assessment shifts, collaborative efforts, raising achievement and closing gaps, and promoting college and career readiness for all students)

 

 

Counselor

·        

  • Encourage students to take risks and fail
    (i.e., challenging courses, student clubs, leadership positions, applying for internships, applying for college scholarships, interview skills, etc.)

·        

·        

  • Rather than promoting the Valedictorian, promote all students who graduate College and Career Ready

·        

  • Encourage students to take risks and support risk taking efforts
    (i.e., Challenging course, PSAT, SAT, ACT, college visits, college applications, career fairs, developing a student resume’, applying for scholarships, meet deadlines, and set goals)

 

 

Teacher


  •  Encourage students to take risks and fail

·        

  • Feature stories of how former students overcame failure or challenges

·        

·        

  • Encourage students to take risks and support risk taking efforts
    (i.e., assignments, assessments, technology integration, collaborative projects, project based learning, grading practices, etc.)

 

 

Student

·        

  • Take challenging courses

·        

  • Develop the skills you need to become College and Career Ready

·        

  • Develop an Personal Action Plan 
    (i.e., Backward Mapping from your first year out of high school to present)

·        

  • Be a risk taker and embrace challenges

 

 

Parent/Guardian

·        

  • Encourage your child to take risks and fail

·        

  • Encourage your child to take challenging courses

·        

  • Attend parent meetings at the school
    (Learn about the Common Core State Standards, course options, student clubs, leadership opportunities, grade point average, college scholarship opportunities, student loans or financial aid, online resources for families, career fairs for students, college fairs for students, college credit opportunities while enrolled in high school, SAT or ACT prep opportunities, interview skills for students or mock interviews, College and Career Readiness, etc.)

·        

  • Let your child know that failure is part of the learning process and how proud you are that they were willing to take a risk

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