Monday, August 19, 2013

Encouraged to Fail

“Fail often so you can succeed sooner.” — Tom Kelly {General Manager IDEO}

Last week on Facebook was a piece of clipart posted with the following acronym for the word F.A.I.L. {First Attempt In Learning}. Hmm! What if that acronym greeted every student {or teacher for that matter} when they entered school? How would they go about their day differently? Would they be more willing to take risks if they knew they were supported in those efforts?

Most of us grew up or have been teaching in an educational environment that rewards hoop jumpers, compliance, lack of noise or chaos, a focus on the end goal of a good grade, etc. What would happen if, instead of encouraging this behavior, we encouraged learners to try new things knowing if they failed, we would help them learn, reflect and grow from the experience? How might they change and how might this change impact their future efforts?  

What might happen if we support our facilitators in the same way? What if we encouraged them to try a new activity or a new way of introducing a lesson? One of our new facilitators likes to use the term, “Be Revolutionary”. Does being revolutionary mean you will never fail? Does being revolutionary mean you won’t take risks? How does being revolutionary push us to the next level? As Co-Directors, we hope we are creating an environment of support for our facilitators so they have the opportunity to be honest, vulnerable, take risks and yes even fail. We will fail as Co-Directors and trust us we both do not like to fail.  We believe we have the same support system we are giving our staff to be risk takers in order to catalyze our growth as a school.
A few weeks ago, one of us took a big risk. And the other was quite nervous about the risk, though that does not mean the risk taker was not supported.   

I(Michael) got the opportunity of lifetime a two weeks ago to skydive for the first time.   The best part about it I got to experience it on the same day as my grandmother.   This was something she has wanted to do for awhile and she was able to fulfill this dream as part of her 75th birthday wish.  The plan was to jump together, but the combination of a small plane and having someone video tape both of our experiences would not allow the same flight jump.  Nonetheless it is a day I will treasure forever.  The risk was very real and great, but the reward of sharing this experience with my grandmother was priceless.  

One of the few places we are asking our students to fail less is in their encouragement of others.  We had both the freshmen and sophomore classes watch this Drew Dudley TED talk (we also showed it to our parents on parent night.)  The power of a positively spoken or written word is like fuel to a soul.  It physically can provide energy to a person and their day.  Most of our learners voluntarily participated in producing a sincere note of thanks to someone who had made a difference in their life in the past year or two.  We gave them some ideas or areas to concentrate on, but they ultimately made the decision who to write to.  We probably will never know the true ripple effect of these positive posts but we know they helped our learners at least for a short time think of someone else and how they could make their day a little brighter.   

Much like we did with our staff this summer, we have started the school year by focusing on building a strong cultural foundation.  We believe that if we can continue to create a school culture that embraces struggle and failure (students read and reflected on this article) as a positive and a learning opportunity and if we can encourage and cultivate young people that occasionally remove their selfish lens and think about how they can lift someone else up even for a brief moment, then we have a chance to build a school that thinks and acts differently than the norm.