When 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 of 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 Instructional Coach, Director of Technology, Director of Learning and Innovation, and UPenn GSE PLN Faculty. 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 continuing my annual tradition (I missed 2017, typical fail) 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 2019 Failing Report
Write A New Book
I began this year excited about working on a new book about one particular topic: Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect.
I spent many days and hours writing ideas, doing research, and working with Ryan Holiday’s team at Brass Check to develop a book proposal. The goal of this book was to pitch it to a literary agent.
Then I gave a short 15-minute talk on this idea at the FUSE19 Conference hosted by MVIFI. The feedback was awesome but it made me think a bit differently about the direction.
In short, I continued to procrastinate and take the long-road with this project. I want it to be right, not rushed, which is something I’ve been working on.
However, this is where the idea for the Talking About Practice podcast came about. I figured what better way to start writing the book then interviewing all kinds of people about their lives and what practice meant to them in their work.
I wish I could say that was the only book I failed to finish writing in 2019, but yet again “failing” has a way of sneaking up on me!
My upcoming book, Empathy Every Day, was slated for a January 1st release, and it’s not going to make it on time. There are some additional stories I want to add to the book, and I’ve decided to launch it via Kickstarter (for a few reasons). Look for more information to come out this January!
Keeping All The Balloons Up In The Air
I left my full-time role at Centennial School District. We had one of our best years ever, and I honestly love our team and teachers.
But, I just couldn’t keep all the balloons up in the air. New opportunities at the university level, more speaking opportunities, and a crazy growing family life with four kids made me have to make some tough decisions. I’m lucky that I’m able to be in a district that also wants to continue our working relationship together even after I’m not full-time. One of my best friends, who I’ve taught with previously for 10 years, worked together as instructional coaches, coached lacrosse together, has taken over my role at Centennial. Anthony, if you are reading this, I know you are rocking it, and I’m so happy our team gets to work with you!
But, this is the kind of decision that leaves you all jumbled up inside. I’m used to constantly managing a team, a family, and a life as an author and creator. There are all kinds of emotions wrapped up and I’m just starting to go through them.
In all of this, there is also excitement. Waiting on the edge of something great isn’t just a feeling, it’s a life-changer. You realize there is no going back, and that’s what is so scary. There will be something great, but it will also be new.
It’s funny how we love “new” things that don’t impact our lives that much. I’m the first one to say “check out this new app” or you’ve got to read this “new book”. I’m also the first one to say that we need to change and start doing new things in new ways.
But this type of new is different, because this is something of impact. It’s big and wonderful and scary and life-changing.
Making More Media Content
I love writing, and I believe I’m a writer at heart. But, writing leads to lots of additional content such as podcasts, videos, social media posts, etc.
I set out to write one article a week in 2019, and create one piece of media content per week in 2019.
It was an epic fail.
I’ve put out a few videos and a few podcast episodes, but have not been consistent.
This year, I’ve got a new plan. Create media for one specific platform that can be used in other platforms. I’ve chosen Instagram and I’ve been posting regularly to my new account @learningwithaj for a few weeks now. Hoping to carry the momentum into 2020!
Nerdy Author Program
Last year I started the serious work of helping other writers become authors. I also started helping current authors with upcoming book launches, building out their writing business, and navigating the world of publishing, speaking, etc.
I wish I could say it was a smashing success, but I made a ton of mistakes along the way. Most notably my biggest fail was trying to force one single system on different types of people. Just as in teaching, I learned quickly that this doesn’t work.
So, I revised the entire program to allow for many ways to help aspiring and current authors. It has been a lot of fun working with a few focused people. I hope to continue this work in 2020!
In 2018 we did the LAUNCH Academy: A Design Thinking Institute. It was a blast, but also a ton of work. I really wanted to do another live event in 2019, but it didn’t happen for a number of reasons (mostly a packed travel schedule during the summer).
However, we are going to be running a brand new live event this summer. The Genius Hour Academy: An Inquiry-Based Institute will be happening on the University of Pennsylvania campus (July 23 and July 24). Only a few spots left, so fill out an application if you are interested.
Focus, focus, focus
If you don’t know me, then you might wonder why I’m starting all of these new ideas, and coming up with all kinds of goals for various books, courses, programs, etc.
I know you are thinking: AJ, wouldn’t it be easier to just focus on one thing and put all of your energy into that one thing.
Believe me, I’ve thought as well. In fact, one of my goals for 2019 was to focus and do less.
Let’s just say that it is easier said than done.
My wife reminded me the other day that I’ve always been like this in some way/shape/form. In high school I played two varsity sports, worked multiple nights a week at my job, was in the school musical (Lion in the Wizard of Oz), member of the choir and newspaper, and student council president my senior year. Oh, and I was also in a band, we called ourselves the 25th Hour (before Spike Lee’s movie of the same name) that practiced multiple times a week and had regular gigs.
This isn’t because I like being busy. It is because I’m naturally curious and excited to work on multiple things.
As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that our time can only be stretched so far, but I still like to be involved in my kids activities (coaching or helping out whenever I can), my brother’s charity (we had our first fundraiser for Gabriel’s Gladiators this year and plan on doing another one in February), as well as my work.
Will I be able to focus better in 2020? I’m not sure.
But, I’m also not going to make it a goal for this year. Mainly because I’m having a good time doing what I’m doing now!
I started this year like I do every year, wanting to be healthier, eat better, and be in the best shape of my life. My wife and I joined a gym (shout out to Paragon) and I’ve been working out regularly 4-5 times a week with our trainer Cal or playing basketball (or even sometimes a run).
However, despite the consistent working out, I need to focus on a healthy diet that isn’t a “diet”, but more a new way of eating. I just love my cheesesteaks! After watching Game Changers documentary on Netflix I have a new appreciation for how much more vegetables I need to eat.
The last few months have been getting better, and I’m ready to make this a reality in 2020!
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 : )