Fail Forward

I don’t know many people who wake up in the morning with a plan to fail. Failure is not comfortable & watching someone we love fail isn’t the most enjoyable experience.

But failure is inevitable.

Everyone is going to fail at some point in their life & I strongly believe we need to prepare our students for failure by allowing them opportunities to fail! This might seem like an odd approach, but allowing failure, especially in a “safe place”, gives us an opportunity to rebrand failure.

Failure is not a final destination… unless you let it be!

I strive to create a culture where students are encouraged to take risks, even when they know their attempt might be unsuccessful. In our classroom, we view our mistakes as some of our biggest learning moments!

Take a look at our math lesson today:

We had just finished a lesson on dividing whole numbers by decimals & we were working on practice problems. After solving independently, & explaining their thinking with a partner, I invited a student to the board to solve the problem. This student solved & explained their thinking beautifully! While I was thrilled to see that student be successful, what happened next put the biggest smile on my face:

“Miss Owen, can I share my mistake on the board?”

Two things:

  1. In a moment of failure (solving the problem incorrectly), this student had two choices… accept defeat & move on or own the mistake & move forward.
  2. This student had the courage to not only admit failure in front of their peers but agreed to use it as a teaching moment!

Imagine yourself as an 11-year-old… would you have been that brave?

This student came up to the board & solved the problem incorrectly. As they finished, they looked back at their classmates for non-verbal feedback*. Many students were disagreeing with their thinking & were eager to explain the error & offer advice! When this student corrected the error, their classmates threw their hands in the air in agreement!

While I am an advocate for allowing students to fail, I am not an advocate for crushing students self-esteem. I think this comes down to the culture of our classroom & how failure is viewed & attacked!

My students aren’t going to buy into the idea that failure can be a good thing unless I do!

I want my students to encounter failure now to prepare them for future failures.

I want my students to leave our classroom with the understanding that failure isn’t final.

I want my students to take risks because they know the outcome (success or failure) will only make them better.

I want my students to FAIL FORWARD!





*In our class, we use non-verbal cues (thanks for the idea, Mrs. Erickson!) to agree or disagree with someone whether they are answering at their seat or teaching from the board.

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