The F-Word #IMMOOC

Failure is soo hot right now…kind of.

I am excited to finally be participating in the #IMMOOC based on the book The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. This book has been on my reading list all summer and I’m finally getting to it. Yay!

Here are some of my thoughts after reading the Forward and the Intro and watching the fantastic live session with Dr. Jo Boaler, from YouCubed.org at Stanford University and whose book, Mathematical Mindset is now on my reading list.

Failure is so hot right now…kind of.

It seems like every conference I’ve been to lately or article I’ve read in the last few months has talked about the importance of failure. It must be this year’s hot topic in education. Mantras such as Fail Fast, Fail Often or Fail: First Attempt In Learning are everywhere. And for good reason. Research supports the idea that we learn from failure. We learn when we make mistakes, think about what went wrong, and try again. However, when I tell my educator friends that my colleagues and I are working on Failure-Based Learning, I get some very strong reactions.

“Do you have to call it THAT?”

“Why would you use the F-word?”

“Can’t you call it something more positive, like Grit?”

Apparently, the F-word, Failure, makes some uncomfortable. Especially when we are talking about letting students fail. It makes them even more uncomfortable when we say that many of the challenges we create set students up to fail…on purpose. No, this is not because my colleagues and I are mean-spirited people who want to dash the hopes and dreams of young minds. Quite the opposite. We set them up to fail in small challenges so they can learn and grow and not fail in the big challenge – life.

Our goal is to create learning experiences that allow students to ask questions, try new things, think about things differently, connect ideas, make mistakes, and try again in a safe, supportive environment. In this environment, failure is not the end judgment of how you performed but just one step in the learning process. When students stop seeing failure as the end of learning but rather just part of the process, they feel more comfortable trying new ideas that might not work. They take risks. They begin to innovate. I love the idea of Steven Johnson’s “adjacent possible,” boundaries that grow as you explore and push past your comfort zone. If students know they can take risks in a safe learning environment and that failure does not mean that they FAIL, they are more likely to push outside of their comfort zone and try new things.

As Dr. Boaler said in the Live Session for Week 1, “new learning experiences, change people.” We want our students to grow and be innovators. We want our students to be comfortable with being uncomfortable so they have new learning experiences and push outside of their boundaries. If that is true, we need to be comfortable with uncomfortable language such as failure.

So, embrace the F-word. Failure is not a bad word. It is essential to innovation and learning.