Your Plan vs RealityWhen my students were doing the 20% Project (Genius Hour) in my class we had an “Epic Failure Board” (inspired by a number of people) where they would pin up some their biggest fails and epic risks.

The 20% project required each student to challenge themselves. They were learning and creating with a purpose, often with lofty expectations and goals…and failure came at every step.

In the first month of the project, I could sense hesitation from many students who did not want to give 100% effort with the possibility of 90% failure. The Epic Failure Board changed the classroom culture from one that shied away trial and error, to one that supported and even praised risk-taking.

I know there are many different definitions of failure, but as a class we adopted a mantra: Sometimes you win, and sometimes you learn.

I’ve kept this as a personal mantra over the years as I left the classroom to become a K-12 Technology Staff Developer and now in my role as an administrator. I’ve also used this in my personal and professional life as an author, speaker, husband, and father.

Failure, it seems, is part of the job. Admitting that you’ve failed is one thing. Sharing how you’ve failed and learned is what I’m aiming for with this post.

Today I’m starting a new annual tradition where I share my failures, and what I’ve learned from them, publicly on this blog. I’m hoping this can do a tiny part to change a culture of education that still denounces Failure and help to shape it into one that supports and celebrates it as my students did during that 20% Project.

My 2016 Failing Report

Re-write Learning By Choice

I released Learning By Choice in April of 2015 and it was extremely well received. It’s garnered 14 5-star reviews on Amazon, and I’ve talked to hundreds of teachers that are using the strategies shared in the book.

Yet, as I went through the process of writing LAUNCH, I realized that I’d left a lot out of LBC. There weren’t enough stories of the strategies being used in real classrooms. Research was missing in pieces that could have bolstered the argument for choice. And it was too short. While I wanted to write an easily consumed and practical book, it felt more like a series of long blog posts instead of a cohesive argument for choice in the classroom. To that end, I put a date on the calendar to re-release it in October 2015.

That never happened. Then I gave myself a new date of December 2015.

That also didn’t happen.

I failed to make the time to really write the book I wanted to share with the world. I still want to do this, but I’ve realized I keep failing because of other projects. In 2016-2017 I’m going to re-release LBC, but in order to succeed, I’ll almost have to treat it as a new project, instead of a revision to an existing one.

Build an App Together

In May of 2015 I wrote a post, “Let’s Build An App Together“, that focused on me solving a problem many of us have in education:

Most professional development is in either a long-form, planned ahead, structured manner (ex: conferences, workshops, courses, sessions, books)….or in a very short-form, unstructured, in the moment manner (ex: Twitter chats, blog posts, youtube videos, etc).

I’d like teachers in my school to have access to something in the middle. Well thought out, structured, professional learning that is also in bite-size chunks that can be used on demand when needed.

Is that too much to ask for?

Over 50 people left comments, helping mold my idea of building an App for teachers that had quick and high-quality professional learning built in. I continued for the next two weeks to build out mockups for the app (you can see them in the article above) and designing the interface.

Then, life got the best of me, and I stopped working on the app. Much like LBC this project fell on the back burner as things picked up at home and at work.

My failure here consisted in two parts. First, I failed to share what I was doing and what I wasn’t doing with all of you that were invested in the project and helping out. I received lots of emails of people who wanted to help, and I let most of you down. Second, I again failed to prioritize and develop a team around this project. In fact, what ultimately stopped me dead in the tracks was how this idea led to a bigger idea of a platform for personalized PD.

Stack Learning

Stack Learning was that platform for the personalized PD. Developed with my friend John Spencer, Stack Learning was a site with videos, courses, workshops, online conferences, and resources to support personalized PD in districts. You can still see the site at 

The failure here was in size and scope. We wanted to create something big. Something that could change professional development from the school and district level. But we also had many other commitments and responsibilities. It takes a lot of time to build a platform to meet all the needs we were looking at. Stack needed more attention, and in the end ,we failed to successfully pitch it to districts.

However, as happens with most failures, there was a lot learned in the process. Out of Stack came a new platform with a slightly different focus on personalized professional learning: Blend Education.

Classroom Cribs

Classroom Cribs has a fantastic team. We wrote a book this year on Redesigning Learning Spaces. We ran another contest on classroom makeover/redesigns. And yet, I failed as a member of this team.

I didn’t hold up my end in keeping up the blog and website, managing the hashtag, supporting and praising the work of teachers around the world who were redesigning. Part of being a member of a team is not only doing your job, but also making everyone better. I feel like I could have done a much better job in my role and hope to be a better teammate moving forward!

UpperPerk Learns Blog

This year we launched a massively successful 1:1 initiative at our High School and Middle Schoo. The teachers, administration, and technology department truly pulled together to make this not only work, but also go beyond my expectations in Year 1.

After leading the Innovative Learning Council last year as a team and building out the capacity of leadership within the district, I was hoping to share more stories of innovative teaching and learning throughout the school year via our UpperPerk Learns blog. I failed in keeping this rolling throughout the year and only updated it in intermittently throughout. One of my biggest goals for next year is to do a better job sharing the story on the blog, and continue the other areas (like social media and events) where we did a good job sharing this year.

Innovative (Skunkworks) Team

I was hoping to morph the Innovative Learning Council into more of a skunkwords type team this year.

It didn’t happen.

My failure here was as a leader to prioritize this type of innovative risk-taking within small pockets, and then bring it into larger group pockets. With the 1:1 initiative, Go Open work we were doing with US DoE, and blended learning…this fell by the wayside.

My problem is that the work can get complacent if you don’t have a strong group that is challenging themselves and their students to do different types of learning each year. I know there can be initiative fatigue, and change can often move too fast, but I still believe a skunkworks type team is important. We just never fully realized the possibility this school year.

Future of Learning Facebook

I started a Facebook page this year with the hopes of sharing what the future of learning might look like. Instead I failed and only shared my articles on this page.

It was a completely wasted opportunity to build a tribe around people that care about the future of learning, and I was selfish in using it only to share my work.

Moving forward I’m planning on rebooting this page and a short newsletter each week that shares the work of others and builds a tribe around how technology is moving us forward as humanity right now (and what that means for education).

Intentional Innovation Book

If my editor Lauren is reading this I’m sorry! I’ve got a full draft of my follow up book to Inquiry & Innovation in the Classroom ready to go for the folks at Routledge.

Yet, I couldn’t press send. I’ve rewritten this draft five times. Sometimes extending the narrative, other times making it more concise. I’ve even added and removed and entire section of the book.

This book is about being a leader and being intentional about innovative work, guiding change, promoting risk-taking, and building relationships.

But you’ll never see it unless I turn it in. I failed this year to let others help shape this work and again relied too much on my own personal work ethic to finish the project/book.


I started an instagram account this year and got a logo designed for You can still go to the website and check it out. The idea was to inspire and share products, books, tools, and anything else to help teachers create a classroom full of learning heroes. My failure was in not fully fleshing out the idea, and in putting the cart before the horse (design and website before the actual content!).

A Personal Note on Failing:

I’ve also failed multiple times this year on a personal level, but thankfully have a wife, kids, and family that supports me no matter how often (or how big) I mess up.

That being said, I’ve learned to be open about failure in front of my kids. It’s great to celebrate the good in life. And there has been much to celebrate this year (birth of my daughter Kingsley, new house, great success at work, new book LAUNCH, and many other “wins”)! But the mantra of “sometimes you win and sometimes you learn” has never been more present in my personal and professional life than this year!

What did you fail at this year? Care to share in the comments? If you write up your own Failure Report please link to it below so we can all celebrate our epic failures this year : )


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  • Jolene Reinhart says:

    Thanks, A.J.! This is an exemplary model of true reflection…it helps one take an honest inventory of both successes and ‘not yet’s’. I failed to rediscover the passion I once had for being a building principal ~ I thought it was still there, accepted a great opportunity, and found out that it’s no longer my passion or purpose. After just one year, I have resigned the position and feel as though I failed a lot of people. But it would be an even more epic fail if I stayed just to stay. And like you, I have a lot to celebrate, too. Congrats on all the failures this year! Those become our ‘not yet’s’ or perhaps they become even more. I’m looking forward to turning mine into ‘even more’! ~Jolene

    • AJ Juliani says:

      The philosophy of “not yet’s” is so inspiring! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and reflection 🙂

  • I love this post so much – thank you!
    This year one of the things I failed at was blogging….
    But I learned that I also can’t do it all and that, I not only need time for my family, but time for myself to regenerate.

    • AJ Juliani says:

      Agreed 100%! Blogging has been a labor of love for me as well. It wasn’t until I started my early morning writing habit that it stuck. If only I could develop that same habit with working out 😉

  • Art says:

    Tried a 20% time Genius hour in Physics class. Epic failure. I did not provide enough structure and accountability to the students to ensure learning. But I’m going to try again next year. I have more share holders (instructional coaches) involved and will be doing it with only one of my sections.

    • AJ Juliani says:

      Hey, I’ve been there Art! Can’t wait to see how it morphs and grows next year with the additional support. Keep sharing!

  • Sandy Otto says:

    Love this post. Last fall, I started in a new position as a middle school English teacher. I had spent the past 20+ years in elementary. A few weeks into the year, I decided to own up to my teacher failures and wrote this post. Thanks for your honesty and your encouragement to share our failures in the comments. May our admissions inspire others to see failures as learning opportunities.

  • Kayla DuBois says:

    Thanks for the honesty and vulnerability! I learned so much about the importance of failure during my first year of teaching (4 years ago), but didn’t have the courage to write about it and share until this year. Sharing my failures and what I’ve learned from them will now be something that is a continuous practice of mine!
    (We’ll have to add, “Sometimes you win, and sometimes you learn” to our classroom mantras!)

  • Jenni Parker says:

    Great post A.J. I think students need to know it’s OK to fail and we (as educators) need to model that it is OK. Not only OK but a fact of life.
    I failed on completing quite a few projects – as my To Do Task diary keeps reminding me – 5 tasks overdue! However, I like Joele’s phrase “not yet’s” as these are still on my To Do list and I intend to get them done this year 🙂 I haven’t changed the due dates as I think looking at the “overdue” message will finally make me fit these tasks into my schedule, 1 by 1.

    • AJ Juliani says:

      Yes, I love the “not yet’s” approach as well. I think part of living a project-based life is sharing these wins and fails equally. Thanks for sharing!

  • […] failed a lot this year (you can read about them all here in my failure report), but also had some amazing successes with teachers and students at our […]

  • Jeff Steiner says:

    WONDERFUL! We are human, we fail, that is what we do. How do we define our failure! I linked this on our facebook and twitter. This would be a model example for chapter 7 of I-GOAL Defining Your Success. Jeff, http://www.i-goal,org.

  • Rebecca Tkachuk says:

    It is really refreshing to read a post of failures. Our district has adapted the “not yet” term for student progress. I like it for teacher reflection too. I have begun reflecting on my goals for the year. I have thought about starting a blog, but I thought, “no one would want to read about my failures” Not long after that, I came across your report. Thank you for your courage and honesty.

    Most of my successes from this past year, are built on “not yets” from previous years. This year my biggest failure, (the “not yet” I feel the most badly about) is trying to implement a system called Super Improvers Wall (part of Whole Brain Teaching). The basic idea is to reward students for personal improvements, not overall accomplishment. They only are competing against themselves. I started the year off strong, but found it hard to keep up. My students would remind me, ” we haven’t gotten stars in a long time.” I felt awful about it, and I told them that. I told them I meant to keep it up and I was sorry I didn’t. Improving on this is one of my main goals for next year. Starting Genius Hour is another. I actually think Genius hour will help me find individual improvements. Thanks again for your honest post.

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