Failures Lead to Success

Republished with permission from: The Institute for Learning Centered Education

A well known actress said in a recent magazine feature that she liked the quote “Embrace failure because it points to a direction for the future.”

I recall a staff developer once telling of a chemical company that would call all its employees out to the front lawn to surround a cannon whenever someone tried something new and failed. The boss would set off the cannon “to celebrate that we are one step closer to success.”

The story is told that when Thomas Edison was asked if it hadn’t been frustrating all the times he had tried a different way to create a light bulb, his response was that when he stayed up all night trying different options he was inspired by the thought that he had narrowed down the possibilities.

What has this got to do with school?

The common denominator in the aforementioned situations is that there was a safe environment for trial and error that encouraged people to view failure in a positive light (as long as they gave forth their best effort). Would the chemical company employees have been as likely to take the risks necessary for discoveries if they felt that one failed attempt would leave them open to being reprimanded or fired?

Do our schools create environments likely to reduce the stress level of students so that they can be relaxed enough to try what they fear will not succeed? Teachers, do you make a conscious effort to create a safe and nurturing environment? Administrators, do you create a safe and nurturing environment for your staff aware that what you model in the handling of your staff will often be reflected in the way your staff relates to students?

Happily, many teachers and administrators can answer “yes” to these questions. Unhappily, too many cannot. Do you think that when employees of the chemical company achieved successes it was because they had been threatened with reprimands and were told that letters would go home to their families giving them a negative rating if they failed?

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The Institute is currently registering teams for the 2008 summer constructivist conference, July 21-25, at St. Lawrence University, Canton, New York. Don’t miss the opportunity for this unique conference that models the constructivist behaviors that teachers are using increasingly in the classroom. Check out the website of The Institute for Learning Centered Education:
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