Failing is the Beginning of Success

College teacher Siobhan writes a post entitled Fail Better about how her students were failing to succeed because they thought they could not succeed. It was a harrowing time for a teacher, trying to get a point across to students who would not even try.

“But you can do SOMETHING, if you stop worrying about doing it wrong. If you sit there for two hours and write a bunch of notes and come up with a thesis statement or a literary device or anything, I’ll give you any points I can give you. Then, when you take it home later to revise, you’ll have something to start the next draft with. You might fail this essay. But if you fail the essay, THE WORLD WILL NOT END.”

She talks about their reactions, her response, and her attempt to help them find meaning in the difficulty. It’s a good, personal example of how teaching is not always simple.

In the post, she refers to a New York Times article What if the Secret to success is Failure?

The long essay talks about a group of people deciding that character is important and attempting to figure out how to teach character in school. They came up with a list of seven character traits they thought would be essential for success:
zest,
grit,
self-control,
social intelligence,
gratitude,
optimism,
curiosity

Their focus on character traits has helped their students. And that focus has added fuel to the students attempts to improve themselves.

One day last winter, I was speaking with Sayuri Stabrowski, a 30-year-old seventh-and-eighth-grade reading teacher at KIPP Infinity, and she mentioned that she caught a girl chewing gum in her class earlier that day. “She denied it,” Stabrowski told me. “She said, ‘No, I’m not, I’m chewing my tongue.’ ” Stabrowski rolled her eyes as she told me the story. “I said, ‘O.K. fine.’ Then later in the class, I saw her chewing again, and I said: ‘You’re chewing gum! I see you.’ She said, ‘No, I’m not, see?’ and she moved the gum over in her mouth in this really obvious way, and we all saw what she was doing. Now, a couple of years ago, I probably would have blown my top and screamed. But this time, I was able to say: ‘Gosh, not only were you chewing gum, which is kind of minor, but you lied to me twice. That’s a real disappointment. What does that say about your character?’ And she was just devastated.”

They have made a difference in the students by not only having a list, but explaining the list and showing how each of those character traits will help them succeed. When the students get off track, calling attention to how they are missing the boat reminds them of their need to succeed.

Many students who are from affluent areas, with helicopter parents and teachers focused on self-esteem never learn what it takes to succeed when things are difficult:

the struggle to pull yourself through a crisis, to come to terms on a deep level with your own shortcomings and to labor to overcome them

That’s what the article says is important. Because no one can be good at everything. No one can find everything easy.

“The idea of building grit and building self-control is that you get that through failure,” Randolph explained. “And in most highly academic environments in the United States, no one fails anything.”

Randolph wants his students to succeed, of course — it’s just that he believes that in order to do so, they first need to learn how to fail.

So, failing is the beginning of success.

If we have students who are failing, we can encourage them with the knowledge that failure in an instant is not failure in everything. If we can ingrain that into their psyches, then we will have given them a springboard for success.

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