Monday, February 24, 2014

Intentional Failure...I'm not a Lifetime Learner, I'm a Lifetime Failure

Just recently my son has developed a love for basketball which excites me because I love that sport! At 6 he is a competitive little guy that has not seen a shot he did not like. During his third game this season he seemed to be in a bit of a slump and could not get one to fall in. His attitude immediately began to change with each shot he missed. You could tell he was feeling the stress of failure.  After the game I tried to talk to him, but  my son has two gears when failure shows up... quit or make a fierce comeback (that is fueled by intense self determination). In this case he quit on the court that day. But in the days that followed, he practiced harder, focused more and was able to use that as fuel to rise above. He wanted to go out and shoot as much as he could. He wanted to practice dribbling nonstop--to the point that he retreated to our basement to get more time with the ball. To him, failure is a pride issue. Failure hurts when he is not performing at his best and he is only 6. When we shoot around he always wants to play horse and at times I will will let him win. Just last night he made one of the most profound statements to me, "Dad I don't want you to always let me win....I have to learn how to win on my own." I was caught off guard. Why is it that my 6 year old has the desire to rise above but yet some teachers and students are afraid of failure? Why do we not accept failures in our life? Let's face it, without them many of the things we learned as children would not have been discovered. How many times have you watched a baby fall learning how to walk? How many times did you personally take a spill on your bike once you took the training wheels off? When you moved away from home how many times did you wish you had a support system when all things fell apart? At what age do we just stop trying when failure shows up? I think it is important to learn how to get away from the "just quit" mentality. I know it is hard for everyone to do that. In our immediate family alone there are literally four different attitudes present when failure shows up! Some breakdown and cry, some accept it and move on, others dwell on it and it can drag them down. It's hard to know the true response to failure because it is very personal. However, I feel we all have the potential to take failure and turn it into a learning moment. Let's be honest, we can not avoid failure and if we try to maintain life living in fear of failure then we will never know our true capabilities. This image sits on my desktop (and my twitter header) as a reminder that we gain experience from dealing with failure as it comes:
I got to experience one of those aha moments when I was encouraged by my school director to sit back and watch my students fail.  Sounds crazy! Well, we have a philosophy at the ILC that it is OK to fail. In fact, we encourage our students to continually try new stuff and see what happens. On this particular day (and what seemed to be in the heat of the moment) we intentionally set our students up for failure. Our students are future teachers. We want to give them the best real world perspective on what it means to be a teacher. We had had one of those weeks where we were out the classroom all day every day and by the time Friday came we were conducting a “5th grade Invasion” in our building. About 100 5th graders descended on the ILC nearly 20 min early and we did not have time to conduct our typical pre-plan meeting. We have done this about 10 times before, so we decided to just let our students do what they do and run the show. Two students were absent so they had to rearrange things and work on the fly. Groups were unevenly assigned and individuals started in different activities that they were not accustomed to. You could see some panic in their eyes and some attitudes became visible on their faces. It was a moment in which it felt like chaos was setting in. We started hearing comments from our students about how unorganized it all felt. You could tell some of them were struggling with working within their groups and trying to keep the attention of fifteen 5th graders became a major challenge. In the end, our director took all the students aside and discussed with them how this was a lesson in "intentional failure." His idea was for them to experience how stressful the day-to-day of being a teacher could be. Even in those times we still need to give our students our very best experience while they are in our care. They may not have appreciated the lesson that day but they had the weekend to think about it. The following Monday my co-teacher and I spent the day reflecting on the experience. Below is a list of thoughts that came from our discussion and I wanted to share. When failure shows up:
  1. Don't quit.....You may need a moment to process what is happening but don't ever quit.
  2. Don't blow up or implode.....This is hard especially if the system you have created is not working.
  3. Own up....We sometimes pass the buck or try to ignore but the best thing you can do is own it.
  4. Reflect on it.....Probably the most important step after acknowledgement is reflection
  5. Identify....What caused the failure to occur?
  6. Modify...What can you change so that you are ready the next time this happens?
  7. Rise up...Implement the change and rise above our previous failures.
  8. Be ready...Because it is going to happen again!
I probably took more away from this lesson than my students did. I have come to realize not everyone responds the way I do and that even I can learn something from a 6 year old. As teachers, parents, students and individuals we can't avoid failure. We can't always make it a safe environment and ensure everyone wins. We have to let failure be a process we all experience and learn from. The question is when it happens...are you going to quit or be fueled to rise above?