My 2020 Failing Report

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 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 from trial and error to one that supported and even celebrated 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, UPenn GSE PLN Faculty, and now a business owner. 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 2020 Failing Report


So, 2020…yea, what a year! I had big plans (like so many of us) for 2020 as you can see in my 2019 report, but that all changed in March as the pandemic changed what life had in store for me, my family, and my work.

To that end, almost everything I had planned to do in 2020, I did not do. I’ll go into more details below, but although my plans failed, I actually am excited about where I let life take me.

I was planning to travel for work even more in 2020. In 2019 I had taken over 100 flights to travel for workshops and speaking events. In 2020, that went down to 25 (all pre-pandemic). This was an amazing twist of fate, where I was able to spend more time with my family, and also do more virtual workshops than I could possibly do in person.

I was planning on writing a new book, developing more media content, doing a live Genius Hour event, and all of those things fell through. However, it allowed me to spend time helping others to finish and release that course they were excited about, or help build-out new websites and digital programs.

In short, my plans didn’t work out. But, oddly, I’m almost happy they didn’t work out as planned.

Write A New Book

I began this year excited about working on a new book about one particular topic: Empathy Every Day.

As an author, I’ve always had multiple ideas floating around in my head and multiple projects I’ve been working on in various stages, but Empathy Every Day was almost fully written, and I was very excited about this book.

In March, I did a Kickstarter for Empathy Every Day. This was pre-quarantine and lockdown, pre-everything that made 2020 what it was.

In the middle of the Kickstarter, the entire world changed due to COVID-19. I could never have prepared for what this would do to me personally and professionally.

I finished the Kickstarter, funded the book, and vowed to get it into people’s hands by July…

July came and I put in an extension as I didn’t do much writing at all in those months. The summer made me re-evaluate whether or not I was the right person to write this book. The fall made that even more clear. In the end, I refunded every Kickstarter backer and let folks know that they’d be the first to get access to the book if/when it releases. The writing of the book is almost done, but it is only one perspective. On a topic like empathy, I really believe more perspectives are needed, and ultimately to finish this project I’ve been looking to partner with some folks to bring a better perspective.

My other book ideas either fell flat due to pandemic realities or are currently brewing and hopefully will be released this year or next year. I’ve learned that I can’t rush the process, and the book I’m working on now (Backwards: How to Reverse-Engineer Any Goal) is on a huge topic that demands a lot of research and case studies/stories to make it come alive.

Making More Videos

Well, this didn’t happen. It started off with making some new original content and videos for Instagram and Youtube in January and February. Then I stopped abruptly. Not exactly sure why, but this was a huge fail of 2020, when I had the time and space to make video content, but put the time elsewhere.

Writing Consistently

If you’ve been following my blog over the years, you’ll notice that I always talk about the writing process and getting words onto the page every single day.

For the better part of the last ten years, I’ve been writing 250-1000 words per day, every day. That all changed this year.

I published fewer blog posts than in year’s past. I didn’t write or release a book. And there were weeks I went without writing at all.

This was a huge fail, and I’m happy that in the past few months I’ve been able to get back on track to re-start this daily writing habit.


I think I’ve tried to start a podcast (on various topics) multiple times. Some have had longer runs than others, but none have been consistent over time. This year was no different that I tried and failed multiple times.

Well, I’m trying again in 2021! Look out for a new podcast to be released in the new year 🙂

I’m hoping my 2021 failing report won’t have podcast listed because I’ll have one going consistently!

Write Like a Nerd Program

A few years ago 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.

This year I did less of this work, but way more work of helping current authors and speakers create courses. This was a ton of fun, and I got to put some of the lessons I’ve learned creating courses over the past 10 years to use with others. Overall this may have been the most exciting work I did in 2020, helping grow the impact of others in an online world.

Live Event(s)

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 2020, but it didn’t happen because of COVID. The Genius Hour Academy was going to be an awesome experience with experts in the field on the UPenn Campus.

To re-route we ended up doing a free online live PD event on Genius Hour (thanks Andy McNair for helping pull this off!), and followed up with a free online live PD event for Project-Based Learning as well (thanks Ross!).

Both experiences led me to create more free online workshops this year, and it completely changed the way I could interact with people from around the world. Here are all the free events we did in 2020:


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 were going strong going to a local gym, Paragon (shout out to Cal!), and honestly in February we were both probably the strongest we had been in a long time.

When we found out we were expecting our fifth child in early February the working out slowed down a bit. Then Covid shut down the gym, and it was a rollercoaster of health throughout the pandemic (went from eating bread four times a day, to running more than I have in a long time currently).

I say it was a “fail” however mostly to keep myself in check. I’ve consciously made eating choices that were not healthy based on being “rewarded” for making it through what we are all going through. At a time when it is so important to be healthy, I want to continue to be better in this area in 2021 and moving forward.

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.

This year we spent more time together as a family and we all had to have grace for ourselves and empathy for each other watching mini-fails happen on a daily basis. How we respond to these setbacks as adults are always being viewed by our youth. Fail and learn, and keep on going. It is sometimes all we can do!

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 : )

Join 76,000 other learners (and teachers)

And get new posts every week by email.

Powered by ConvertKit

Join the discussion 10 Comments

  • Bonnie Greene says:

    we love the fail board….going to adopt it in our creative student lab space….thanks

  • Brian Bratt says:

    I also love the fail board idea. I’m going to implement it in my second-semester class to celebrate students taking risks and learning from the outcomes. Thank you for sharing your fails.

    • Zineb says:

      I LOVE your fail board. This is a powerful reflective tool and the starting point to grow and improve. 2020 was so tough, our plans failed and we felt upset as the unexpected shocked us. This year I could not travel, speak at conferences and even write more blog posts as I was planning. Yet, I learned how to LOVE myself and get stronger in difficult times. I also learned a lot about distance learning and supported my students to learn online. Thank you Juliani for your valuable and inspiring thoughts.

  • Mariam Hashmi says:

    Thanks for sharing the failing board idea. Loving your mantra “ Sometimes you win and sometimes you learn”..

  • Sandra says:

    I, too, love the idea of a “Fail board” to celebrate taking risks and developing a growth mindset. I had two epic fails (and many little fails) and both of them have led me to epic change. Actually, to clarify, it wasn’t the fails that inspired change. It was my own determination to analyze the fails, learn, and make changes. Over the first two months of shutdown, I gained close to 20 pounds to add to the 15 that I gained since I began my MA. My second fail, was spending the last 4 months unable to move forward with my research. Returning to teaching in-class through a pandemic has taken far more mental energy than I ever could have imagined. I leave my classroom every day with no physical or mental energy left and my weekends are spent preparing my food for the week. The time spent to prepare my food has taken from time I would have spent reading and researching, but I’ve lost my COVID 20! Then several weeks ago, I began reading – slowly – a new book: “Hardwired”. It is helping me look at my life and my choices through different lenses. (By the way – I highly recommend this book. They put together information and ideas that have been explored by many, but the way they write and weave them together is stellar!). This week, with no plans for Christmas, I AM RESEARCHING – yeah! It is, I believe, far more complex than just failing and trying again. We have so many layers to our behaviours – healthy ones and unhealthy ones. Have a relaxing winter holiday!

  • Christina Eagar says:

    My fails this year are mostly in the health area. I really feel like I need to get a better grasp on my health/fitness because I can tell how much more it affects my body as I age! I sure wish I had listened to everyone when I was younger! I actually think I did better with my planning since I was forced to change everything for virtual teaching. I know it’s not as effective, but I’m more organized and planned out that ever before, which has reduced that stress.
    I currently have a growth mindset bulletin board but I’m going to change it into a fail board because I think it’s more helpful to see real struggles that their peers push through instead of seeing only positive mindset quotes.

  • Terri Svec says:

    I am loving the Fail Board. It’s somehow oddly reaffirming to know that others are struggling. No one could have failed at distance learning more miserably than me. Middle School Band is not something that works well in Google Meets-especially with 60 in one class. I also set a goal of reading 100 books. I’currently on my 88th, and am not likely to meet my goal. But think of all the wonderful books I did read! Epically failed in eating healthy and exercising regularly during the pandemic. What I am realizing is that we all crash and burn when the system or society changes abruptly and we each need time and grace to adjust to the new normal. I am getting back on track with both diet and exercise and feel better because of it. Personally, I think the Mayans were off by 20 years. Remember the panic in 1999 when we all thought our computers would die? And some how we figured it out, made improvements and kept going. Wishing everyone better results in 2021!

  • Laurie says:

    Honestly it’s hard to see these items as ‘fails’. I feel like re-vamping the writing ideas to encompass more perspectives or research reverse-engineering goals sound amazing! However I did learn a lot about dealing with self-perspective from reading your post. Thank you for sharing.
    enjoy your family holiday!

  • Chandra Parker says:

    I have failed and LOVE LOVE LOVE your fail board. In my classroom last year, we had mountains so we had peaks and valleys, but I love the ideas of the different struggles that could come as you move along. I can see some great conversations as I move forward (not teaching any more) helping educators (now instructional support). This year has been a struggle for me. I switched jobs, moved from where I thought I would retire and raise my grandchildren to a new place…during a pandemic. I keep struggling but remember that it isn’t about how many times I fall, but how many times I get up! I am so excited to take some time for me during this break and to actually be recharged coming back. The staff deserve to have someone that is there for them so they can be there for our students!

    Thank you A.J. 🙂

Leave a Reply