Defining Failure?

I am struggling with the term “failure” and have written about it a few times.  I get when people say that it’s okay to fail and I know what they are meaning, but my fear is that our community think something totally different when we say things such as “we encourage failure”.

So I thought of this video of Derek Redmond and his dad, which I found to be one of the most inspirational videos from the Olympics ever.  Watch it if you have never seen it (have tissue paper ready):

My question is, would you consider this failure? If Derek Redmond did not get up, would that be failure? If he didn’t get up and never competed again, to me, that is failure.  But getting up and doing the best possible even after you stumble, I think that is part of growth and learning.

Thoughts?

13 thoughts on “Defining Failure?

  1. Shaileigh Page

    That video is a perfect picture of working together to achieve a goal. It may not turn out how you had first thought but you keep going and make the best of the situation!! Mr Couros, thank you for making me think… Again :-)

  2. shareski

    The idea of failure is really about grit or as you suggest, how we respond. It's difficult to develop grit/resiliency/ determination unless you face some type of challenge that likely involves degrees of failure. The problem in education is how we associate the word with courses, classes, assignments and tests. LIke the word "disruption" it's not a word we typically think is associated with a good learning experience. We need to be clear on what we mean. Put in the right context, this is not something many people would ever deny is valuable.

  3. Graham Gallasch

    The issue here is resilience and the ability to develop resilience. Resilience is only developed by dealing with pressure, difficulty, failure. Strong muscles are only developed by use.

  4. mattywpearce

    Is the old saying " setting someone up for failure" therefore not a helpful teaching tool? If this is the case, my dad was wrong!!!!

  5. Holly Chesser

    After watching that video, I wondered what happened to Derek Redmond after the Olympics. Apparently, two years after this injury, he was told by a surgeon that he'd never run or compete in sports again. However, with the encouragement of his father, he began to play other sports, ultimately earning a spot on England's national basketball team. He sent a signed copy of the team photo to the surgeon who told him he'd never play anything again.

    I hope that's what we mean when we encourage students to embrace failure. Personally, though, I don't like the use of the word "failure." It's a word heavily laden with disapproval, red ink, and rejection. I don't think it's worth reclaiming.

    There is so much talk these days in education about embracing failure, but I often wonder if these individuals recognize the reality of life for most high school students driven to succeed and fearful that any errant grade will derail them on that path to success. I keep thinking to myself that it’s our job as educators to help change the system so that it’s not so focused on the end result, on success. I don’t think it’s fair to ask kids to embrace failure if the system still penalizes them when they fail. Then all we’d be teaching kids is to distrust or worse to be apathetic.

    Frankly, it’s easy from the cheap seats where we teachers sit to encourage students to embrace failure. But parents on the sidelines and kids in the game are desperate to win, and so I often wince when I hear that kind of bumper sticker encouragement to welcome failure.

    But this video and Redmond's reaction to his setback shows meeting rejection head on and building resilience. You can't shirk away from recognizing that there will be pain. Real pain.

    So how did Redmond embrace his "failure"? First of all, he had support – his father – who clearly helped him recognize that life is a process not a finish line. As a result, he moved on to discover his next race.

  6. Allie Holland

    When I was a classroom teacher, the very first day I would tell my students that I love watching them make mistakes. They obviously had no clue what I was saying because 1) they were 2nd graders and 2) they had never heard that from a teacher/adult before. Learning cannot happen without failing at something at some point. My students were free to make mistakes and we celebrated all aspects of learning, not just the victories. The key is making sure that students feel comfortable just trying. This, of course, leads into letting students create and feel the freedom of putting points together on their own and in their own way. Walking down the hall and seeing carbon copies of each other is not allowing the freedom students need to fail successfully.

  7. Pingback: Failing Successfully | Mrs. Holland's Classroom

  8. Maria Nasone

    Had 60 year six and sevens in tears over this video and a great discussion followed on what makes individuals great and how do we fine greatness

  9. Carina van Heyst

    Came late to this blog post but am in tears. In addition to illustrating tenacity and commitment to a goal, I think it's also a powerful reminder of just how deeply parents care for their children. Despite the warnings from officials, Redmonds' dad made it to his side. As an educator, I always want to be sure that I am honouring this powerful parental impulse. As a parent, I know it well. An interesting companion piece would be the Procter and Gamble 2012 Olympics ads which showed parents watching their kids compete from childhood to the international stage. P & G's ad experts knew just how to dial in to this most basic instinct.

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