We have failure all wrong

Failure isn’t the opposite of success but rather it’s main ingredient – Jim Harshaw. Any one who has never failed has never accomplished anything of value, I don’t know who said this!

Both of these quotes are amazingly true. I have failed in 90% of my endeavors and still I have been pretty successful by most measures. I have been thinking recently, why is failure so important in the journey to success but in the education of children failure is generally permanent?  People fail for a variety of different reasons but when it comes to a test, homework, project, etc. We don’t let students learn from these failures without suffering some huge consequences of that failure. You failed this test, its going to destroy your grade for the entire grading period but that’s your fault and you should learn from it. But in the process of learning from it you can’t correct that failure because it’s your fault.

It seems education is the only area where a failure is permanently on your record. If I am working and I have an idea, my team runs with it and it turns out not to work I am rarely fired. I go back, look at what went wrong, correct it, and move on. If I truly believe the material I am teaching is important then I should be making, not giving a 12 year old the ability to decide, students learn that material. If they don’t learn it the first time, be that because they didn’t try or didn’t understand, they should be required to work to learn it by working at it again. This is exactly how I would coach it in wrestling, if you haven’t learned a solid outside single technique you don’t get to just give up on it. You are going to practice it everyday until you get the technique right, then you are going to practice it more.

This is one area where I think educators need to think more like coaches. When you are coaching someone you have them work on plays and techniques until they can’t get them wrong, if you are a good coach you do anyway. If your athletes go out and get them wrong in the game it is right back to the drawing board in the next practice. You don’t just move on and tell the team that they didn’t learn it, that’s too bad, and just move on.

I know the testing nature our society has created makes educators want to fly through material throughout the year so kids are exposed to everything that could be on the test. Everything is an inch deep and a mile long, but how well is that really working for us? If I were coaching these kids in wrestling, I would sacrifice the length of knowledge for depth and I guarantee I would win more than those who took the other approach.

Another point is that all kids don’t have to be on the same lesson during the same class, on the same day. It’s not true for my wrestlers, I have kids working on different things throughout practice. Generally the area of wrestling is the same but kids are working on things that suit their strengths and their ability levels. Classrooms can and should be the same. This does create more work, but it’s more meaningful and productive work and that should be the goal.

If our material is important for students to learn we should make sure they learn it, even if it is a day, week, or month later than we wanted them to learn it. It shouldn’t matter how slowly a student learns just that they are learning.


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