growth mindset · reflections

The Freedom to Fail

I have been failing for a long time. I’ve had loads of practice at it. I was failing way before it was cool to fail, and telling people that I had failed never bothered me even before it was “a thing”. I’m the first one to admit that I have failed, have no problem pointing out to someone I’ve failed, and immediately look for ways that I can improve and grow from my failing. In every experience I’ve had with failing, however, I’ve noticed there is one constant: how you and your failing is perceived by those around you and their subsequent attitude can be drastically affected by their mindset.
We have one camp of growth mindsetters who believe that we need to fail in order to grow, and honestly, thank goodness. These are my people. They believe that failing is just a part of growth, and even though eventually you must have enough grit and determination to succeed in your endeavor, you will most likely fail on your way. But, that’s okay! Each failure provides lessons that get us closer to glorious success.

Then there are the people who either don’t feel this way or maybe just don’t know any better. They are the ones who either falsely claim that failure is okay but don’t really believe it, or just don’t even accept failure as an option to begin with. I’ve worked with some of these people…admins, other teachers, instructional coaches, students (and who has modeled that for them?)…and inevitably what happened is I felt like I was seen as someone who was incompetent in whatever area I had admitted my failure. I was no longer asked questions or for help, no longer asked to mentor others, and definitely not asked my opinion. Even though they wouldn’t change the way I believed regarding failure, I absolutely stopped admitting to anyone I didn’t trust that I had failed. I kept it to myself and there were a few downfalls from that: 1) I no longer had the option to reflect on my failures by collaborating with someone and finding a better answer 2) I never modeled how to fail and grow for anyone who was not yet in that mindset 3) I no longer had the option to reflect on my failures by collaborating with someone and finding a better answer (that was an important one worth repeating). In effect, I stunted my own growth.

Sometimes, I feel like we talk about failure only in philosophical discussions, but in practical terms are not always willing to put it into practice. The freedom to fail should be something that is an expectation in classrooms. Not that failure is an expectation in all that we do, but that all educators and students are given the freedom to fail without judgement, taught how to take lessons and learning from the failure, and persevere in working toward success with the learning. Once we establish that kind of culture in a school, there will be no reason for anyone to adapt their own beliefs to those around them, like I’ve had to do, because those who succeed because they failed will be seen as competent, growth minded professionals.

2 thoughts on “The Freedom to Fail

  1. I agree 100% with your last paragraph! In theory, the ability to fail, learn from it, try again, and repeat as necessary, is just that, theory. Many people (teachers, students, administrators) don't want to see the failure, the imperfection, and it certainly should not show up in any grading system! It's frustrating to say we have a growth mindset when the major step of growing is not allowed.

  2. Hi Holly! Thanks for your comment!

    That's true…even if they say they believe in allowing for failure, many people certainly don't want to see evidence of that. All we can do is continue to educate those around us on the value of it and continue to model our own growth through it. Thanks again!

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