How to fail…

An important skill that our children need if they are to successfully ride the wave of life’s ups and downs, without finding themselves flailing for air after being hit by an especially nasty rip tide, is the ability to fail. Dr Pooky Knightsmith explains and advises in SecEd.

While I am consistently impressed by the levels of emotional literacy displayed by the younger generations, I am also deeply worried by the degree of perfectionism that is present too.

Being driven by perfection and a fear of failure doesn’t necessarily sound like a bad thing – but it can play out with very negative consequences, either in the shape of a young person who limits their experiences, unwilling to try new things for fear that they might get it wrong, or by a hard fall from a great height when they fail for the first time.

It is important, therefore, that we expose pupils to failure and, if possible, that parents are on board with this too. It is not that hard to do once we reframe failure a little and recalibrate the conversation. And no, I’m not advocating anything so grand as the flash in the pan “failure weeks” of a few years back, but rather a slight shift in attitude that prepares pupils for the knocks that life will throw at them – while they are still in the safety of the school environment. So, here are some simple steps that we might take.

Reframing failure with pupils and parents

Many of us have told pupils that “fail” stands for “first attempt in learning” but have we really meant it? 

If we really embed this philosophy, we end up with a classroom where pupils feel able to apply their existing skills, knowledge and understanding in a new context in the full knowledge that they may not be successful right away, but safe in the understanding that they will learn something in the process that may bring them closer to success next time.

Role-model failure

Teachers and parents can do this by stepping out of our comfort zones and trying new things alongside our pupils – extra-curricular activities can offer a great opportunity for this. It can be hard to step away from the idea that we must always be the expert in the room, but learning with your pupils and letting them see you fluff up occasionally – and having fun along the way – can help to give them permission to give new things a go too. 

Read more ways to help pupils understand failure in the classroom How to fail…

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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