Failure...that's a scary word, especially right now for educators. We are under pressure to push young children to perform on tests with increasingly higher and higher stakes. These same tests are tied to our own evaluations and in the state of Ohio, one high stakes test is actually tied to whether or not children, 8 and 9 year old children, will be able to pass 3rd grade! So, yes, failure is a scary word. But what if we worry less about what is on the test and more about what our students need? Scary thought,
right? Or is it scarier to have such a laser focus on a test that measures students' performance on just one day? I think we all know the answer.
I find inspiration in many places. One of those places is in professional books. Recently, I've been reading Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. I can't seem to stop reading pages 48 and 49. I have literally read these two pages 20 times. The message needs to be engrained into the mind of every educator and every politician who attempts to "reform" education.
Failure vs. Feedback. That's it! That's the answer.
Dave Burgess says, "The key to failing without quitting is to shift your paradigm to believe there is no such thing as failure-only feedback."
No failure? Only feedback? Is it even possible to succeed without failing. I don't think it is.
What if there was no failure, only feedback?
Think of the possibilities! What would happen if teachers and students were not afraid of failure? What if failure was used as feedback? What would education really be like if everyone-teachers, parents, students and policy makers changed their thinking about failure?
Here are some words of wisdom from Dave Burgess that will help us refine our
views of failure:
1. If you haven't failed in the classroom lately, you aren't pushing the envelope far
2. Any endeavor that doesn't hold the possibility of failure can't accomplish anything
3. When your students aren't engaged it isn't helpful or empowering to blame them-
they are providing you with some critical feedback: what you are doing is not
engaging...try to evaluate and learn from that feedback.
Educators, will we embrace failure and use it as feedback or will we let failure, or even worse, the fear of failure, stifle us?
I've spent most of my career as a kindergarten teacher. I have carried screaming children into school more times than I can count. I have emailed and called worried parents. And, I always have said that at the beginning of the school year I hug more parents than kids! I thought I understood exactly how those parents felt. But, then at 8:00 am a few weeks ago my cell phone rang when I was in my office at school. I answered it because I saw that it was my mom calling. (I am one of those lucky people who has their mom watch their kids each and every day!) As I answered I heard an incredibly loud screaming and for a moment I thought that she had to be on her way to the ER with one of my children. But, instead, it turned out that, Gino, my 5 year old kindergartener was refusing to go to school by throwing a raging fit outside of his elementary school...he threw his backpack and was laying on the sidewalk, kicking and screaming!! My mom was standing outside of the school with Gino and my 2 year old twins. She didn't know what to do because she couldn't carry Gino (who was still kicking and screaming) and the twins safely into the building. So, I picked up my office phone and called the school. The secretary sent the principal outside. I sat helpless in my office as I waited to find out if Gino would ever make it in to the building. Soon, my phone rang and it was the principal, Mr. Wulf. He was calm and kind. He chuckled as he said, "You have a stubborn little boy!" He went on to tell me that Gino made it in to the classroom and stopped crying immediately. Later that day he followed up with an email to let me know that all was well. Mr. Wulf calmed my fears and reassured me that everything was going to be okay.
As I reflect on this experience I am reminded that each and every child in my school is someone's baby. Every child has parents who want nothing more than for them to be happy and safe at school. As I continue to learn how to be the best principal I can for the families and children at my school, I will try hard to remember to look at situations through the eyes of a parent, remember what it's like to be on the other side and remember that all children and parents deserve those few minutes that it takes to make a reassuring phone call or send an email.
As educators it is easy to get used to crying children, forgotten lunchboxes, scraped knees, etc. but we must remember that to the child and the families these issues that seem small or insignificant to us are a really big deal. Our students and families may not remember everything we say but they will always remember how we made them feel.
Thanks Mr. Wulf for taking the time to make me feel better that
I hope my blog posts inspire risk taking and new ways of thinking. I hope to connect with other educators on our journey to always do what's best for children.