Tag Archives: failure

Resiliency and Grit, Not Failure

At ISTE 2013 in San Antonio, Texas, Microsoft gave away over 10,000 Microsoft Surface Tablets to participants.  Basically anyone that was at the conference that wanted one was going to get one for free with their registration.  The majority of people that came to the conference had no idea that this was happening and I would say very few (if any) people signed up to go to ISTE to get the Surface.

I chose not to get one.  I chose not to take a free tablet/computer with my registration to ISTE.  From what I heard before the conference, the device was not that great, would crash often, and was not as intuitive as other devices.  If that was the case, why would I want one?

As participants unpacked their devices, played with them, what they had told me was basically what I had heard in the reviews before.  People were complaining about the devices that they were given free because they weren’t that good.  This was a tough crowd admittedly, as most people were very tech savvy, but these are the same people that I would ask for their advice.  If they would have told me it was awesome, I would have possibly reconsidered filling out the form to get the device, but you know right away when a company is giving a ton of their devices away at a conference, it is probably because they are not in that high of demand in the first place.  Apple’s policy (from what I have been told) is that they will donate money to conferences, but they will NEVER give away their product because they believe it to be the best.  Why would they give something awesome for free?

Here’s the thing…if Apple gave away an iPad at ISTE, I would have taken it in a second.  That is with even having two iPads already.  It is a great product.

Embrace Failure?

This is not about Apple vs. Windows.  This is about the word “failure”, and this huge movement by educators that we should embrace “failure”.  Even some going as far to saying that we should promote “failure”.

Every time I hear things like this, I get worked up.

Googling the definition for the term “failure”, here is the screenshot of what I found:

Screen Shot 2013-07-08 at 2.42.10 PM

Based on the definition above, the “Surface” was a failure at ISTE.  What happens when a product is a failure within a company?  People lose belief in that organization.  With all of the talk about “embracing failure”, how many of you would take your own money and start investing in Windows after the Surface?  I know I wouldn’t.

Failure or something else?

Yet people throw around names like Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison, and Albert Einstein when they talk about failure.  Some of the most brilliant minds in whatever they did, and I would not put them under the definition of the term “failure”.  Steve Jobs, who died with a net worth of 10.2 billion dollars, may have been a failure in other aspects of his life, but business and innovation were places that he excelled.  It was not all smooth sailing, but in the end, they were successful.  Did he have failures? Absolutely.  But there were other characteristics that they had that are much more important in their work.

When having a conversation with an educator that discussed the notion of embracing failure, I asked her if students could fail her high school math class.  She said, “no way.”  I asked her why and she told me that there is no way she would let them, and she would work her butt off to make sure that she would not let them fail.  She would do everything in her power to not let them fail.  Then I said to her, “based on that, do you really embrace failure or do you do everything to avoid it?”  She knew what I was saying.

Language is important

The words we use in education are very important to our public.  Only a few days ago, a parent tweeted from me that educators need to do better ensuring that students have a “work ethic” and that schools are getting soft.  I thought about what he said and cringed at the idea of many teachers talking about “failure”; if he thought educators were already being soft on students, this would NOT help that cause.

Last year, when Edmonton Public talked about their “No-Zero” policy, the public went irate and the talk started again about “lazy teachers”, etc., because people believed that teachers were okay with their kids failing, when in reality, the policy was to NOT accept failure.  Teachers were working harder than ever to not let a student just take a “zero”, but were making sure that they were working with students to learn material.  The term “no-zero” brought people back to their time in school and was a poor choice of words.  Think of your time in school?  Would “failure” be something that we would have seen as desirable when we were in school.  Not where I grew up.

Then I have heard educators say, “we need to educate the public on what ‘failure’ really means, and change the definition.”  Really? The public already has enough issue with all of the educational jargon that we throw around, and now we want to change the “definition” of words?  Will people really get behind what they don’t understand?

Grit and Resiliency 

So getting back to the term “failure”…is that a part of the innovation process, or even learning?  I guess I don’t think of learning as either “pass” or “fail”, but as a process with ups and downs, mistakes, issues, things we need to overcome, challenges.  These ideas are all things I can work my way through and be successful.  This “grit” is a key to people being successful.

If you look at the term “grit” as defined in the Wikipedia, this is something that we need to work to instill in our students:

Grit in psychology is a positive, non-cognitive trait, based on an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal or endstate coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective. This perseverance of effort promotes the overcoming of obstacles or challenges that lie within a gritty individual’s path to accomplishment and serves as a driving force in achievement realization.

Or even the term, “resiliency”?  Again, here is the definition when I Googled the term:

Screen Shot 2013-07-08 at 2.57.46 PM


“Grit” and “resiliency” should be the terms that we talk about when working with our students and our community.  We should also talk about what the road to “success” really looks like.  The chart below clarified this process for me.



What’s narrative do you want to share?

I totally understand what educators are saying when they talk about “failure” and our thoughts are on the same wavelength.  That being said, the narrative of what teachers actually do is misconstrued by our public when we use the term.  Most of the people that I know that defend this term do everything in their power to NOT be failures and since they are educators, that means they do everything to instill “resiliency” and “grit” into their students as well.  Do they (or their students) fall? Absolutely.  But the story should not be about “falling”, it is about what we instill in our students to make sure they get back up.  That is what we need to share.

Right now, there are a lot of companies that have products that are considered “failures” in the public’s eye, and they do not have the confidence of their stakeholders.  I struggle thinking that if we keep talking about the importance of “failure” in schools, that our community will lose faith in what educators are really trying to do.

What story do you want to tell?

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.


Is Fearing Failure a Good Thing?

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Lel4nd

Bear with me as I work through these thoughts…

I have written about failure before.

Have you ever been in a relationship and at some point, just not cared as much?  You still maybe felt something for that person but perhaps did not really give it what you had at some point in the relationship.  Sometimes this could be due to a feeling of comfort, but sometimes could it be that you simply did not care one way or the other if you stayed in that relationship?  Yes you would be hurt if it was over but you know it would not be the end of the world; you would get over it.  But when that relationship that you didn’t care about that much ends, ultimately, you have failed.

But then you think of those relationships that may have ended but meant everything to you and failure led to a great deal of heartbreak.  Think of those relationships…the ones you have been in that you have worked hard to NOT fail. The relationships that you have cared about usually are the ones that you push yourself to get better.

I saw this Arnold Schwarzenegger video awhile ago and he says a few things that stick it out for me yet seem a little contradictory:

“Don’t be afraid to fail.”

“Don’t fail because you didn’t work hard enough. Work your butt off.”

If you listen to everything he talks about in the video, he talks about not fearing failure yet he puts all of the things in place to avoid it.  There is a fear of failure in his voice. (I won’t even getting into trying to analyze how he ultimately failed with his relationship.)

I don’t think people should avoid doing things because they have a crippling fear of failure, but there is something to not wanting to fail that perhaps pushes us to do better.  There is some meaning and connection to the work, initiative  learning, relationship, whatever it is, that makes us do all in our power to avoid failure.  Often we won’t fail because we care too much to allow that too happen.

Look at projects or new initiatives in your school…are there some that are there you could really care less if they continue on? Would staff care about initiatives in your school enough that they would be devastated if they were taken away? Do they care enough to do whatever it takes to make certain initiatives work? Failure probably will happen not because the planning wasn’t there, but the meaning or reasons you do the work were not compelling enough to see the work through.

We have moved from a world that simply saying, “Do as I say”, is not enough.  There is a need, and should be a want, to clarify your “why”.

I am starting to think that the trick is not getting students and ourselves to be okay with failure, but to care enough about the learning that failure is not something they will do everything to avoid.

So…is fear of failure a good thing?

Is “failure” an option?

cc licensed ( BY SD ) flickr photo shared by plural

I saw this tweet:


I have to admit…every time I see when others use the term “failure”, it makes me cringe.  This has nothing to do with the intent of what people mean, but just the word itself and what it says.

Many of us come from a different time in schools where, if you “failed” a test, this was not looked at as something that was just a part of the learning process.  This is was something that was looked down upon and often, the people that “failed” tests, didn’t necessarily do well in school after the fact.  Many of us in education understand that mistakes and “bumps” are a part of the learning process, as they should be. If people didn’t struggle with what was being taught, why would we have to teach it?

But many people that have, and should have, an interest in education that aren’t necessarily educators.  They can be parents, politicians, or anyone in the community, and when the term “failure” is used, it sometimes says something different.

You don’t think terminology is important?  Look at the backlash that Edmonton Public had about their supposed “No-Zero Policy” at the end of the last school year.  If you actually look at what the school was doing with assessment, the practices were totally focused on improving learning and helping students get better.  It was not a way for students to “opt out”, but from my understanding, it was a way for students to not have the “opt out” option.  The policy, whatever the name, was meant to higher expectations as opposed to lower them.  But when you say “no zeros”, that takes people back to a time that they were in school and doesn’t necessarily focus the conversation on the right thing; improving student learning.

Just to reiterate…I get why people say that “failure is important to learning”, etc., but does a short sentence with that one little word invoke faith in what our schools are doing?  Bill Gates failed.  Steve Jobs failed.  Tons of other failed.  I get that.  But schools are a place where all of us went and most didn’t go to school with Bill Gates.  Many of them will have stories of the kid who “failed” and continued to “fail” often; that is where many minds will go.

We work in the public eye and I do believe we have to be aware of the terminology that we use.  Even when we are doing something we could all agree upon is right, simple “words” may lead others to think different.

Learning From Success Works Too

cc licensed flickr photo shared by epSos.de

I have recently read some fantastic  blog posts from Jesse McLean and Eric Sheninger that talk about the importance of learning from our failures.  As educators, we have to be able to take risks and learn from our mistakes to role model this to our students.  Not everything works the first time.

In the past week I have been reading a very interesting book called Rework. Now some of the messages are very strong, and some even controversial, but this quote really stuck out for me:

Evolution doesn’t linger on past failures, it’s always building upon what worked. So should you…Success gives you real ammunition. When something succeeds, you know what worked—and you can do it again. And the next time, you’ll probably do it even better. Failure is not a prerequisite for success. (Rework)

The truth is that many educators are very modest and do not always like to share their success.  Some even feel guilty. The way I see it, there are a TON of great things happening in our classrooms right now, that have never failed.  They were awesome from the start.  As much as we have to learn from our failures, we need to be able to share and learn from our success as well.  Those good ideas that you have already implemented in your classroom will only steamroll and help build momentum to effective change for our students.  Share those successes with others to inspire them as well.  You were probably successful because it was a well thought out plan that you put into place.  Be proud of that!

Sharing this success may feel like bragging, but if you share it, it will probably work for someone else as well.  Sometimes we knock out of the park on our first swing.  You can learn just as much from that as you can striking out.