We aren’t here to teach to a test, we are here to teach our students to be successful in the real world, and that means failing. Students will fail. They will lose jobs, they will bomb a test, and they will struggle to get things right. When they fail, struggle and then succeed and it is a normalized, welcomed part of schooling they will learn that struggle and failure is ok. When everything is easy for students, they often give up when it becomes the least bit hard.
Everyone has something that is hard for them. Every student will struggle in some part of life. In-depth and meaningful learning takes place after a battle. It is important to make failure and struggle a daily part of your classroom.
There are some things teachers can do to create a culture of “failure is ok” on the way to eventual success in their classrooms.
So often we treat success as the only way to be rewarded. Success is its own reward. Don’t believe me? Watch almost any sports team after a win. Do they need a sticker or to move up a clip chart? No! They are excited to have won the game! Rather than rewarding the student that does well on every spelling test and always gets 100% on everything they do with minimal effort, try focusing on the student who had to study for hours or stayed after school to get extra help.
Focus on effort rather than merely success.
It is easy for children to find heroes to look up to. Some are worthy of their title, and some have gained their ‘hero’ status by luck and chance. Providing examples of heroes who had to work hard to get where they were, or who went through exceptional failure, can help give students a more positive outlook on failure. A few examples of successful people who faced failure include Albert Einstein, who didn’t speak until he was four years old. Dr. Seuss, 27 publishers rejected his first book. Walt Disney, he lost a job because he ‘lacked imagination and good ideas.’ Thomas Edison, who took 1,000 tries to invent the light bulb. While students may only see these famous people as pictures of success, pointing out the failures that led to that success can help them be willing to fail and keep trying.
Teachers can be failure heroes too
Teachers need to be willing to fail and to share their failures with their students. Share your funny stories and the silly mistakes you make. Tell your students stories of times when something didn’t come easy, but you tried and succeeded anyway. When students start to see that real-life successful person they know and admire fail, they realize that failure is part of life.
Teach children not to internalize their failures. It is so easy for us, adults and children alike, to internalize our failures. We fail, and we think: “I will never be successful. I am a failure.”
It is imperative to teach children that when they experience a failure, they aren’t a failure. It is ok, even necessary, to fail. Making failure a welcomed part of your classroom will help your students find their way to success.
Amy Curletto has been teaching for 12 years in grades K-2. She has a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education and also has endorsements in reading and ESL. Besides education, her other passion is writing and she has always dreamed of being a writer. She lives in Utah with her husband, her 3 daughters, and her miniature schnauzer. She enjoys reading, knitting, and camping.
The child who is ‘left behind’ most is the one who leaves school without transition readiness.