1. Adam Schneider

    George, I just want to add that I did get a Surface at ISTE. It has its shortcomings, as does the iPad, but overall I actually enjoy it very much, and it grows on me more and more each day.

    Failure is in the eye of the beholder.

    • George Couros

      Obviously the post is not REALLY about the Surface and I am glad you are enjoying it…You might be the only one that I know.

      • Adam Schneider

        I realize that your post wasn’t really about the failure of the Surface, but I did want to express my positive experience with the device thus far. I feel there is possibly room for growth in the Windows tablet form factor,

  2. William Wallace

    Failure to me is an educational system, school district, school and teacher that are unable to prepare students to pursue their dreams and passions. The only time a student fails in my eyes is when they quit -give up!

  3. Chris Harte

    Totally on your wavelength George and language is incredibly important. We have a learner development framework which promotes the learner attributes we try to help our students develop. In there we have resilience, resourcefulness, reflection, optimism and passion amongst others. It is interesting that you focus on parent/public perception but what about learner perception of failure. This is a key area and needs work because if students do not see failure as a learning opportunity and only as defeat, how can they develop anything other than learned helplessness?

    • George Couros

      I think it is important that we learn from failure, but it is the notion of “embracing failure” that really bothers me. I am never okay with it, and work my butt off to avoid it.

  4. Hugh McDonald


    I understand your point, and I am with you. Instead of trying to redefine the word we should be sharing the stories about what we are trying to instill… grit & resiliency. This is something I need to be more clear on when talking to parents in my own class. Although I don’t use the term failure I do use the term resourceful which is the strategy you are using when you are using grit & being resilient. Terms matter & if we as educators are clear on our message then our message should be easier to understand by the parents of our students & the greater population.


    • George Couros

      Totally agree Hugh…Again, you are one of the educators that I know that would NEVER be comfortable with your students failing.

  5. lorraine

    The link you provide to Angela Duckworth’s TED Talk, the guru of grit states,

    “every day parents ask me, “How do I build grit in kids? What do I do to teach kids a solid work ethic? How do I keep them motivated for the long run?” The honest answer is, I don’t know. What I do know is that talent doesn’t make you gritty. Our data show very clearly that there are many talented individuals who simply do not follow through on their commitments. In fact, in our data, grit is usually unrelated or even inversely related to measures of talent. So far, the best idea I’ve heard about building grit in kids is something called “growth mindset.” This is an idea developed at Stanford University by Carol Dweck, and it is the belief that the ability to learn is not fixed, that it can change with your effort.”

    World renowned motivation expert Carol Dweck’s theory of intelligence explains why students lose motivation; why the lack of work ethic and grit. The answer is to be found in students’ fear of making mistakes and failure that ‘prove’ they aren’t smart, but ‘prove’ they are dumb.

    Carol Dweck advocates the need for learners to experience mistakes and failure; not simply the act of mistakes and failure but the learning how to recover from mistakes and failure. Failing without analysis is useless. When learners are motivated to avoid mistakes and failure they’re compelled to avoid tasks that may result in failure, thus avoid effort and participation.

    How can learners learn to innovate or create if they’re motivated to stay in their comfort zone to avoid failure?

    Our role as educators must be to explicitly teach learners that mistakes and
    failures are part of the learning process, explicitly teach learners how to analyse the failure in order students view failure as a message that changes are needed. In this way students learn to develop strategies that address the failure and not develop fear of failure that results in students learning to hide their mistakes and deficiencies.

    A teacher who won’t ‘allow’ their students to fail reminds me of parents who do
    their children’s homework. Whether parents or teachers we won’t be there when our learners join the workforce, highly motivated to make a good impression. A good impression demands looking good; the motivation to avoid failure a high
    priority. Employers already bemoan the fact that employees lack initiative, innovation and creativity – they’re referring to employees who are ‘playing safe’. To do otherwise the employee runs the risk of their employer finding out they possess the capacity to both make mistakes and fail. Compelled to look good, demands avoiding failure – at any cost!

    When unable to embrace reasonable risk, mistakes and failure, we’re unable to
    innovate or create; key to innovation is the necessity to attempt, fail, learn
    and try again.

    • George Couros

      I believe should take risks in their learning and try do things that will be tough on them. The point I was making is that the focus on coming out of this process is more important than simply them “failing”. Developing grit. Do you promote failure or resiliency and grit in the face of it?

  6. Linda Winokur

    George, I have wrestled with this verbiage as well. I believe it was Henry Ford who quoted that failure is simple the opportunity to begin again, this time more inttelligently.

  7. Mike Skinner

    Great article. I have heard the same comments that schools are “soft” today and kids need to fail to prepare them for real life. Failure has different meanings depending on the context and application and unfortunately most people, including many educators think failure is course based. I believe our role is to help students learn from their mistakes and improve in a supportive structure without complete failure.

    Too many youth experience failure everyday outside of the reach of schools already. Many who are at-risk experience failure after failure and then quit. Educators needs to help build resiliency to ensure we continue to see our students each day.



  8. John Spencer

    You know what’s both innovative and resilient? Linux. If you like the iDevices or the Chromebook, you can thank the Linux community for all that innovation. And here’s the thing: their process is so much more democratic, messy and continually innovative than either Apple or Microsoft. It’s why I took the Surface and tested out different Linux distros on it. Now I have a fully functioning touchscreen tablet that doesn’t crash and can actually run all web apps (Surface doesn’t let you do Google hangouts, for example).

  9. Theresa Gray

    Doug Lemov talks about creating a “culture of error” where students feel comfortable taking risks, sharing ideas and even being “wrong.” *gasp* I think that because education has become (always was?) about success vs failure – this is difficult to do. But so with it for the learners! Thanks for the reminder about the importance of our word choice!

  10. Dave Black

    I really appreciate the focus on these two words, grit and resiliency. I have often wondered if my students, who seem so proficient at so many technology tasks, will become anxious and discouraged in their 20s and 30s when something changes that they don’t expect. I don’t want my students 20 years down the road pining for the “good old days of using Microsoft Word” when new tools and aptitudes come along. I want them to have the grit and resiliency to embrace changes and embrace the opportunities they provide, rather than focusing solely on the challenges. Thanks for providing a vocabulary for that ongoing emphasis with my students.

  11. Jennifer Collette

    I think the language we use with students, parents, and community is so important. I am like the teacher you were talking to…I try to help students avoid failure but see mistakes as opportunities to learn and try again. I think sometimes we say “It’s okay to fail”…but maybe we just need to say, “It’s okay to make mistakes.” When students make mistakes, I hope that I am helping instill the grit and resiliency to get back up again. I think that is the most important part..teaching students to overcome obstacles and try again. They will need grit and resiliency when trying to achieve success in and beyond the walls of our schools.

  12. Chris Wejr

    For the past few months, I have been observing and reflecting on how much time we spend discussing language we use. I think our experiences and lenses have a huge impact on the meaning of terms and words so failure to one may have a difference context to another. Although I am not a fan of “embracing failure” as to me (through my lens), failure seems final. However, I am ok with fail as a verb… as in “she failed in that attempt” or as MJ stated “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.”

    What I think we are getting at is that we need to focus on what happens after a mistake, error, missed attempt, fall, etc – and what do we do when we don’t know what to do.

    If my kids have a teacher that uses the phrase “embracing failure” but is exceptional at teaching kids to be resilient and focus on a growth mindset, then I really have no problem with it. So, to me, the language can be the brief starting point of the discussion (just as a way to seek understanding on meaning of terms we use) but we need to move past this and talk about the deeper pedagogy that occurs (like you have stated in the 2nd half of the post keying on grit and resiliency).


    • George Couros

      Do you not think that it is ironic that you use MJ talking about failure as something we should aspire to in learning? His failure comes from the direct result of losing in competition which I know is not something that you really promote in your teaching. When we talk about “failure”, the word is based on the goal that we are talking about. MJ is talking about in the context of winning and losing. Is that the same for learning?

      • Chris Wejr

        Although we discussed this in a private conversation, just wanted to share publicly that to me (through my lens), MJ was talking about failing as developing the skills that lead to success. I realize that you take it as winning but I was more focused on the practice of skills. Also, as you know, although I am not a fan of forcing kids into competition and creating a competition out of learning in school, I am a big fan of sports and kids choosing to engage in competition if it suits them. Sports and coaching can provide great analogies to assessment and learning in the classroom as to what happens after an error – what kind of feedback do we provide? How do players/students respond to a failed attempt?
        I truly appreciate our conversation – although we see things slightly differently, I can see where you are coming from when we use the term “embracing failure” in a public forum. Thanks again.

        • Catherine Smith

          The Michael Jordan quote came to mind while I was reading the blog. I’ve got a slightly longer version on my classroom wall. He refers to the number of times that he was trusted to take the winning shot, but failed. I suspect that is what we are trying to express to our students – if you never try, you won’t be successful. If you do “give it a go”, it might not work, you might in fact fail in this instance and that is okay provided that you learn from your experience and move on and try again. The references to successful failures are all people who were not successful initially, or even after a short while, but perceived and were eventually acknowledged for their amazing success.

  13. Tim

    George, you seem proud of the fact that you chose not to get a Surface and then go on to critique it as if you have used it. My wife and I got one each at ISTE, and it is amazing. Short learning curve, but with some grit and resilience, not ignorance, we both love them and they are every bit as good as the iPad. Grit, resilience, original thought and informed critiques.. We don’t want kids to follow the leaders and copy other peoples opinions either.

    • George Couros

      If I was following the leader, wouldn’t I have taken one like the other 10,000 people?

      I used other people’s feedback on the device and if you heard something similar, would you have paid money for one? I wouldn’t, nor would I have bought any for our students.

      Glad you are enjoying your surface though…not really the point of the post but I appreciate your feedback.

      • Tim

        the problem is George, the message you are offering is “form your opinions from those of others in your influence circle” rather than explore the facts critically for yourself. Shame that!

  14. Diana Williams

    Hi George,

    Thanks for this blog post, there has been so much discussion this year about “embracing failure” that it is high time someone addressed it. I’m glad it was you. I am of a similar school of thought in that I do everything I can for a student in order to avoid getting to the point of failure. To me, it is my failure if a student is not supported to be successful-I have let them down. Grit and resiliency is truly a better perspective from which to teach.

    While I wholeheartedly agree with your premise of grit and resiliency, the analogy of the surface tablet was a bit of a red herring. I do have to say I was very surprised at your comment about not taking a device at ISTE. In fact, I audibly gasped when I read it and went back to read it again, thinking I was mistaken. I’m sure there was something in the paperwork that you would have had to sign that wouldn’t allow you to give the device away?

    This spring I was the “temporary guardian” of six ipads that lived in my classroom. Having continual access to devices was a game changer for my students and I and now I don’t want to teach the same way I did before having devices in my class.

    As someone who has spent endless hours and late nights applying for grants to get devices into the hands of my students, and now spending part of my summer fulfilling grant requirements, this comment was a bitter pill to swallow. Any access is better than no access, in my opinion.

    So if anyone isn’t using their tablet from ISTE, please send it my way-I’ve got some kids that would be very happy to use them.


    • George

      Hey Diana,

      I will have to admit that I never even thought about just getting the device and giving it to a school. Admittedly, if I was still principal in a school, I would have grabbed something and brought it back and I totally could have done the same for one of our schools. Thanks for pointing that out as I honestly never even thought of it.

      I do however don’t totally agree with you that ANY device is better than no device. I have seen teachers frustrated with devices that are clunky, cause issues and waste more time trying to get them to work, as opposed to using them effectively. Some would do anything to get them to work, and some others would not even try. If it were true, we would see schools using their laptops 100% of the time and I would be really curious how often that happens. Devices that work in the classroom at the point of instruction totally change everything as you said though.

      Thanks for your comment.

  15. Beverley Bunker

    I have argued in favour of the word failure many times. However, it has always been in the context of accepting that something did not work out as planned and to learn and improve from that experience. I’ve encouraged my students not to be afraid of failure because I want them to take risks, make mistakes, and learn from them.

    I am glad you offered the words grit and resiliency as alternatives because I think these terms are what we’re actually trying to encourage in our students. I’m still not entirely opposed to the term failing, because there are unsuccessful attempts throughout the learning process… but I agree that the sharing should be about the grit and the resiliency. There is no inspiration to be found in failure as an end.

  16. John Spencer

    This post hit home for me. I think I went toward teaching, because it was something I cared about and something I was “good” at. I soon hit points of failure and realized how hard this gig really is.

    I quit writing fiction in college. It’s when I also quit drawing, sketching, doodling, whatever.

    Now, I’m attempting to write an mid-level novel with pictures I am illustrating and the process is messy and confusing. I’m finding myself wantint to give up. Your post was encouraging, George.

  17. George,

    We have been discussing grit and resiliency at my school purposely for a couple of years and the phrase “embracing failure” has never been part of the dialogue. While reading your insightful post, I wondered if that was negligent but now I am convinced that it is not.

    I am trying to focus more on “engaging grit” (not quite as sexy a term, I admit) and how to instill that in students. While allowing students to fail (or the far less final terminology – make mistakes) is part of that process, helping students come up with the internal motivation and longer term goals may be a stronger path for my students. I’m reading Dweck’s “mindset” and rereading Willingham’s “Why Don’t Students LIke School” to give me insight and ideas to help me figure that path out a little better.

    Hopefully, this much needed discussion you have started here furthers the ideas for implementation with our students.


    P.S. Sorry, but I just can’t help jumping in on this non-issue-that-became-an-issue topic: The failure of the Surface occurred for me when they first came out. While Apple SHOWS us what the iPad DOES in their ads, we get to see the Surface as part of a dance routine.

  18. […] Resiliency and Grit, Not Failure – I can relate to George’s point in this article. I think it is the narrative we want to share that is important and to me part of that is the need to remove the stigma attached to failure. Failure is a natural part of any process – so the narrative i want to share is recognising this fact in order to build a competency for resilience. One of the key lessons that I’ve learnt in life is that it is never wrong to make a mistake – the wrong thing to do is not fix it. […]

  19. Deborah Welsh

    What concerns me is how we expect everybody to be resilient in the face of challenge. It’s like telling your teenagers it’s so easy to be organised. Well, yes, it is for some, but for others it’s incredibly difficult.
    I don’t mean to be picky George, but how did resilience become “resiliency”?


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