Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Planned Failure

"Failure is always an option"
- Adam Savage

What if we fostered more failure in the classroom? For most kids, school is a place of performance, a place where they are constantly being judged, measured and evaluated. If you "Google" quotes about failure you will find hundreds of references from very successful people about the value of failure, from Albert Einstein to CS Lewis. So, how do we encourage failure, support it, and teach children to learn from it without destroying their self esteem in a system that values A's and success on the first go?

Once again, I return to the most reliable tool we have: modeling. As adults, we are even worse at putting ourselves in vulnerable situations. Why? Because we have the ability to choose our path and we tend to choose the direction of our abilities. I mean, who chooses to do something they are not very good at? We don't like to feel like a fumbling novice, overwhelmed by a new situation, made to look incompetent in front of others. So how, as teachers, can we empathize with children in the classroom? My dear friend and colleague, Joline, introduced me to the idea of "Planned Failure" many years ago. She enrolls herself in a new activity or project each year in order to keep fresh the experience of learning (and everything that goes with it). Simple, yet brilliant. My first planned failure project was art class. The worst painting on history was plastered to my fridge door all year to remind me daily of what it is like to feel awkward and incompetent again. But I was also reminded of nights spent hunkered over a canvas with paint up my arms and the freedom to just explore a new part of myself. Last year, I tried rock-climbing. It is frustrating, but also exhilarating to find yourself at that end of the learning curve.

So for 2011, I'm still coming up with my planned failure project. I'm thinking of trying to squeeze design classes into my busy work and PhD schedule. And I've enrolled in a mountain bike skills clinic. That will guarantee failure. The good thing is that practicing vulnerability transfers to other areas of my life in which I'd prefer not to fail.....like taking some risks with my career.

Finally, this is one of my favorite commercials on failure:Michael Jordan

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