This is the second post in the “Innovative Teaching Challenge” series. To get every challenge sent to your inbox, sign up here.

Ahh, the sweet smell of failure. As students we were taught that failure was a bad thing, and as adults we are cautioned against “trying” anything that might lead to failure.

Yet, as I look at my own life (and probably when you look at your life), failure has played a huge role in who I am today…and how I got here.

I Fail…

One of my biggest failures ever was as a college student. I failed two courses my first couple years of college, and dropped out of two more. I rarely went to class. When I went to class I rarely listened. And almost decided this “school thing” was not for me.

In the middle of my sophomore year I had a 1.6 GPA and something had to change. During this time period I had also jumped around different majors, but nothing kept my interest when I was in class.

Then in the midst of all this “failure” something clicked. I was in an education class, and remember being excited to write a paper. I found myself participating in class discussions. I actually read some of the material. I no longer cared about “playing the game” (more on this later) — but instead I truly cared about learning this stuff.

There weren’t too many classes in my entire educational journey that I ever cared about. I used to think “playing the game of education” was doing just enough in class to get by and do/learn what I wanted with my free time.

However, this made me finally realize that “playing the game” was really making it work for you. I could choose my own path, and choose the classes I wanted that I actually cared about so playing the game was fun again. And even when an assignment, paper, or project was challenging…I was bought in.

We Fail…

This is what upsets me about much of our current educational system. It’s not the paperwork, or new standards, or testing etc… It’s our mindset.

We let our students “play the game” and we actually reward them for “playing the game” better than other students. Because this is the way school was for us, and this is the way many jobs are treated.

And the cycle continues to spin. Instead of pushing students towards learning activities that interest them and that they might care about, we make the case that they should care (or at least pretend to care) about every assignment and piece of school work.

I know we can do better. We can still hold a high standard, and hold students accountable for work, while also allowing them time to fail and bounce back.

Because isn’t that what we all do? We fail, it makes us stronger, and we bounce back up. It’s not always pretty…but for me, it’s how I learn best.

We All Learn

In the first challenge, we talked about student choice. I believe student choice and failure go hand-in-hand. Both are part of the learning process when we learn naturally.

My daughter is just learning to read (she’s using those Bob books and they are great!) — but boy is she failing. Every time she misses a word I can see it upsets her. However, she fails fast. She gets right back at it and keeps trying to read. She asks for help. She’s not afraid to fail.

And guess what…she’s learning. And improving. Through failure.

If we can learn to talk through failures, and walk through failures, and read through failures…why can’t we embrace that strategy for our students (and for us as adults).

Innovative Teaching Challenge #2: How can you allow for failure in your classroom? What are some ways to bring it back into the learning process and make it something students embrace because it helps them grow? This week try to give your students a chance to fail, and also give yourself a chance to fail…I bet there will be a lot of learning that follows!

Watch Nicholas Provenzano (@thenerdyteacher) talk about how he brought failure back into his classroom this year. Also, you have to read his blog, where discussing failure (and the big wins that follow) happens on a regular basis!

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  • Greg Armamentos says:

    “I watched my students struggle, and I enjoyed it.” – YES! We learn through struggle! Bravo!

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