Your Plan vs RealityWhen my students were doing the 20% Project (Genius Hour) in my class we had an “Epic Fail 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 failing 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 Fail 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 failing, 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 Director of Learning and Innovation. I’ve also used this in my personal and professional life as an author, speaker, husband, and father.

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

Also, the first time I did this report, I called it “Fail-ure Report” – I’ve since changed it to “Fail-ing” which you can learn more about in this video:

Today I’m reigniting my annual tradition (I missed 2017) where I share my failings, 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 risk-taking and help to shape it into one that supports and celebrates it as my students did during that 20% Project.

My 2018 Failing Report

Write Scratch Your Itch

If you were to go back and look at my yearly plan for 2016, 2017, and 2018, they would all have one thing in common: Write Scratch Your Itch.

This is a book I’ve wanted to write and put together for years. Ever since I began to scratch my own itch as a writer and maker, I’ve been fascinated by the stories of people in all kinds of industries who scratch their itch. Then, doing it in the classroom with Genius Hour took me next level to wanting this book to happen.

Well, for the third year in a row I’ve struggled to not only write this book but also to put together a cohesive outline that makes sense.

However, this is where the idea for the Scratch Your Itch podcast came about. I figured what better way to start writing the book then interviewing all kinds of people about their lives and passion projects that turned into something more than just a project. I’m only four episodes in but excited about the process.

Our 1:1 Initiative 

In 2017, we went full 1:1 at my school district. We had a great plan, a great team, and awesome planning process and people bought in for the right reasons (learning over everything else).

August came and the students received their devices, and things went relatively smoothly.

Until, October hit. We had Chromebooks breaking left and right. They were turning off and would not turn back on when on the charger.

By November we didn’t have enough loaners (even though we had about 10% purchased).

By December I was on the phone with our CB company three times a week trying to solve this problem.

January of 2018 marked a low-point as we rallied to try and complete a process that would fix the problem. Well, long story short, it didn’t fix anything and made it worse.

There were many lessons I learned from January to June as we limped on by, working with the CB company to get new devices, put a plan in place for the summer. But most of all I learned how important it was to support the people you work with every day.

I always want things to go smoothly, but it is when things don’t go smoothly that your leadership is tested. That was an extremely tough test to get through and I made a ton of mistakes along the way.

I’m happy that the summer helped get the devices fixed, and this year has gone much, much smoother–but wow after having been through two different 1:1 initiatives before this, I’d never dealt with so many issues, and I’m forever thankful for my team for picking me up and getting us through the 2017-2018 school year!

Making More Videos

I set out with a big goal in 2018 to make more videos and write fewer articles. I love writing, but video was something I’d been interested in creating for a while. I also was inspired by John Spencer to jump into videos so I set the year with the audacious plan of creating 25 videos.

I’ve made two…

Now, this is both failing and a win. It is failing because of my expectations, but unlike Scratch Your Itch, at least I’ve put a few out into the world 🙂

The interesting thing is the paradigm shift of videos vs writing. When I write, it is just me and the keyboard. When I create a video there is so much more at play.

I struggled to create a process, write scripts, and actually record a video let alone edit it and make it something that people would maybe want to watch!

Then I decided to take some of my better blog posts and turn them into videos, this got me out of the ideation stage and right into making.

I’ve now released two on YouTube and have recorded three more that are being edited and will be released in the next month. My process will probably allow me to make 20ish videos next year, and this year of struggling set me up for that.

Inside Innovation Podcast

I started the Inside Innovation podcast in late 2017 with big plans for 2018. Then I stopped recording these podcasts after season 1.

I’m not sure exactly why I stopped, but a few things were holding me back. First, I didn’t get the feeling it was that well received from our community of teachers and leaders. Some people enjoyed it, but it didn’t seem like something that would be missed when it was gone. So, I stopped, and sure enough it was not missed 🙂

Second, I was tired of talking about the same things and interviewing some of the same types of stories/people. The conversations were valuable, but they were not as intriguing to me as they might have been a few years ago.

This (along with the fact that I couldn’t get myself to write Scratch Your Itch) led me down the path to moving in the direction of a new podcast that I am super interested and excited about!

Innovative Teaching Academy

The second cohort of the Innovative Teaching Academy ended this year in March. After talking with a lot of the members of the first and second cohorts one thing jumped out to me. It was working really well for a certain segment of teachers, leaders, and coaches — but wasn’t working as well as I wanted for another set of educators.

At first, I thought getting rid of one of the options would make it better, but in reality, I need to create something different that was for teachers, leaders, and coaches that wanted immediate, practical takeaways that they could use tomorrow in their role.

My plan was to make the Innovative Teaching Academy more of a “go-at-your-own-pace” course, but I’ve yet to make that a reality. Hopefully soon!

What came out of this failing is my work this year to build a new course called, Theory to Practice, and I’ve never put more time (or been more excited) about a course/project. Can’t wait to see it come to life in 2019.

Future of Learning Facebook

I started a Facebook page a few years ago with the hopes of sharing what the future of learning might look like. Instead, I struggled 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 Facebook as a community and place for more discussion.


I started this year like I do every year, wanting to be healthier, eat better, and be in the best shape of my life.

I did go through starts and stops all year long of working out regularly and eating healthier, but there was always an excuse.

Mainly, the death of my brother led to a serious emotional toll, and that can always impact our physical lives as well.

The last few months have been getting better, and I’m ready to make this a reality in 2019!

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 failing in front of my kids. It’s great to celebrate the good in life. And there has been much to celebrate this year! 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 were your fails this year? Care to share in the comments? If you write up your own Failing Report please link to it below so we can all celebrate our epic fails this year : )

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  • Gary Gruber says:

    Thanks for sharing, A.J. Your honest transparency is a great credit to you and an inspiration to all of us lifelong learners who are still learning lessons from mistakes, shortcomings and a failure to achieve a particular objective. However, we keep going, adjusting, adapting, and creating the next scene or story that might just come out as we expect or even exceed our expectations. This is why the studio/laboratory learning spaces are so much more productive than traditional classrooms. If you need some help building the Teaching Academy, a center for innovation and creativity, let me know. I have tons of experience some of it gained from bad judgments! Take care, happy Christmas and a joyful New Year!~

  • Steve says:

    Hi AJ,

    Failing is painful when you set expectations for others that you can’t meet. Because I enjoyed your videos, I simply subscribed to your YouTube channel. So when your videos do come out, I can watch them. In that sense, your videos are a success even if you didn’t publish as many as you’d hoped.

    In case you’re interested – The most helpful book (to me as a teacher) that I read this year was by Harry Lewis, a Harvard professor. He wrote, Excellence Without a Soul. It looks at the challenges, goals and failures of higher education. This book provides examples of universities challenged by the expectations of outside communities that don’t hold the same values that the university is trying to instill.

    Here are some of my teaching failures from this fall:

    My students are graduate students and have limited time. I left out an important discussion period in my class because required extra research on their part. As a result, not everyone felt invested in discussions like they would have if they were bringing in their own work.

    Another failure – I let students misinterpret confidence for competence. A barrier for some students was the following attitude: “I know how to do this.” These students turned in sloppy work that didn’t solve the problems we discussed.

    A corollary to the above failure is that, while I offered constructive criticism, I didn’t hold students accountable for making improvements based on my feedback. In the future, I think I’ll ask students to resubmit their work.

  • Christine Townsend says:

    My failure this year is and continues to be trying to figure out how to do literature circles on Google Classroom so each group can share each week with limited Chrome books . My biggest problem is set up. Each week I try something new and I can’t figure out how to set up the circles so I and the group can see the new jobs each week with out tons of set up on my end. The first time they couldn’t see each other’s work, the second time I sent it to one member and they shared it with me and others but then I couldn’t figure out whose was whose so when one person couldn’t find their job I spent 20 minutes helping them locate it. The last week two people who I sent to jobs to, who were then suppose to share with their group were sick so I had to explain it to the next set of kids. Ugh now I’m wondering if literature circles should just be done the old fashioned way using paper. There is no way to set up Google classroom so a copy can be sent to a group that they can edit without editing the teacher copy. So my dilemma continues. Epic fail. Btw I love your articles.

  • I have made decisions based on assumptions.

  • Trina Lovio says:

    Thank you for this wonderful post. I wish that I would have learned to fail at a younger age. I would not have let fear rule my decisions for many years. This year I failed by not writing at all. My goal is to begin writing on my blog again in 2019.

  • […] do not always turn out the way one might hope. Students and teachers will face failure.  Yes, failure is a reality in life.  There will be moments when students will be frustrated as they are gently […]

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