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:
- Don't quit.....You may need a moment to process what is happening but don't ever quit.
- Don't blow up or implode.....This is hard especially if the system you have created is not working.
- Own up....We sometimes pass the buck or try to ignore but the best thing you can do is own it.
- Reflect on it.....Probably the most important step after acknowledgement is reflection
- Identify....What caused the failure to occur?
- Modify...What can you change so that you are ready the next time this happens?
- Rise up...Implement the change and rise above our previous failures.
- 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?