Please Share My Passion For Education!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Failing Forward!

Don't be afraid to fail. Don't waste energy trying to cover up failure. Learn from your failures and go on to the next challenge. It's OK to fail. If you're not failing, you're not growing.
                    -  H. Stanley Judd

I am concerned that not enough of the classrooms around the world have created a culture in which it is acceptable to fail at something.  We have heard all of the stories before about Thomas Edison, Abraham Lincoln, J.K. Rowling, Michael Jordan, and on and on and on, in which they failed repeatedly, but kept persevering until they were successful.  In the classroom I have noticed that the students who are least likely to "think outside the box" or "take a risk" or "try to pull of something extraordinary" are often our brightest students with the best grade point averages.  Why is this?  

What is failing?  Ask any student and they will tell you that it is an "F".  These students can certainly not afford to have an "F" on their report card and although they may be able to recover from one "F" during a semester, they might not be able to get back up an "A".  This might put them at a disadvantage from getting a scholarship, getting into the college they want to go to, or getting the job they want.  Why would they possibly risk it?  This is a problem!!!!

Whose fault is this?  I do not think that it is the students' fault.  In fact, I think that the educational world has created a system that is ultra-dependent on an "end product" that is graded.  If that end product is not excellent, the student receives a lower grade and the entire class moves on to the next topic.  I don't blame students for being cautious.  Sir Kenneth Robinson explained it best when he said that we teach kids that "there is one correct answer, and it is at the back of the book".  Students are often handed a packet of worksheets that have right or wrong answers.  On projects, students are often handed rubrics that grade them in a "cookie-cutter" fashion on certain components of the final product.  The students MUST create a good end product within the given time limit.  This does not foster creativity!  This does not foster an environment in which students are willing to take risks.

I have often said that if Thomas Edison was following rubrics we would all be reading next to really nice looking candles.  If Pablo Picasso, one of the greatest artists of all times, was using a rubric, he would have been given an "F".  This is concerning!

Who are the innovators of the future?  Who can possibly risk trying to be one of the innovators that take a chance and change the future?  It seems now that it would be someone who resists our education system, a system which causes tunnel-vision in the land of creativity and risk.  Or, it may be someone who is supported by an organization like Google who asks their employees to take chances and supports them in doing so.

Why wouldn't schools be doing this more often?  How can they?  I have no idea why we are not pushing students to achieve at their highest levels.  I believe that this would be easy to do if we would simply:

Grade the process, not the end product.  If grading the end product, give time for making adjustments to elements that failed. Have students reflect and learn from their mistakes.

I would love to make a rule in my class that "If you don't fail.....YOU FAIL".  I want students to take a risk on their projects.  I want them to shoot for the moon.  I want them to try something new.  If things go wrong, make adjustments and try to improve it the best you can.  This is the real world of innovation and success.  In fact, if everything goes as planned, I would question whether or not they set their goal high enough.  Maybe they should lose some "points" if they did not.

I loved Gever Tulley's TED talk when he said that "Success is in the doing, and failure is celebrated and analyzed".  YES!  YES!  YES!  This is an important skill and an important message that we must help students realize.

This year in our program we had two very intelligent and hard working students decide to take on a project in our "Body Breaks Down"  unit.  They were able to take a disease/disorder that was meaningful to them, and they chose autism.  They wanted to learn more about autism, but also they wanted to do something about it that "mattered".  After meeting several times, they decided to do a project titled "Ornaments for Autism" in which they purchased a bunch of glass ornaments, paint, and brushes.  They decided to have an event in which kids and community members could come and paint a Holiday Ornament, which they could then keep.  Participants had to pay a small fee to cover costs, but the girls hoped to walk around, spread the word about autism and their mission, and then have people donate.  They wanted to raise money to give to a local autism foundation.  I believe they set their goal at $500.

Ornaments For Autism

These girls worked HARD!!!  They were constantly emailing, calling, planning and trying to make sure they had a time, location, plan, and enough volunteer help to pull the event off.  The girls quickly found out that this can be a tedious and grueling experience.  Soon, however, they had everything ready to go!

On the day of the "Ornaments for Autism" event we had an enormous snowstorm.  School was cancelled.  The girls did not know what to do.  They contacted me to find out if they should cancel the event.  I said that they should.  They wondered how.  I gave advice, but ultimately told them to solve the problem and let me know if there is anything that I can help with.  They made the proper calls, posted on social media websites and cancelled the event.

When we returned to school after Holiday Break the girls seemed heartbroken that their event fell through.  I felt a sense that they thought they had failed.  They didn't fail!  It was the weather. This was completely out of their control.  They decided that they wanted to persevere and still have the event.  After trying to line up a place to have it and promoting the event again, they ended up having the event.  The problem now, was that the event was taking place a couple weeks after Christmas.  Consequently the turnout at the event was low.  Not very many people ventured out to paint ornaments.  The girls were disappointed with the results.  In the end they had only raised $150.

I don't think a project like this would ever take place in a super traditional classroom, but if it did, what would it be graded on?  What grade would they receive?  They didn't even reach half of their set goal amount, did they FAIL?

In the girls' minds they thought that the product sort of failed.....  I COMPLETELY DISAGREE!

These two girls worked very HARD.  They learned about autism and the human body.  They improved a ton of 21st century skills including communicating, collaborating, critical thinking/problem solving, thinking creatively, planning an event, speaking in front of the entire staff to announce their project, etc... These students grew during this unit and it was very obvious.  They also learned a couple extremely important life lessons.  First, planning something is very difficult and takes a lot of organization, a lot of hard work, and a little luck.  One of them said "I will never walk into any event again without thinking...Wow!  Someone organized this event."  Most importantly they learned that:

They Matter!  They have the ability to make a difference!

These two girls donated $150 to the Autism Society of the Fox Valley..... this was $150 more than any other students that I know.  If every student in the U.S. averaged giving a $75 contribution to this society, our 55.5 million students would have contributed $4,162,500,000 (4.16 BILLION dollars).  

Our students can make a difference.  Please give them the opportunity.  Be there to support them and assist them in learning.  Be there to help pick them up when they fall.  Celebrate failure and analyze it.  Innovate and improve.  Your students will walk away better prepared for life, more confident, empowered, and respected.
The world will be a better place!

ComPassion Based Learning.  It will change education while changing the world!

Please contact me for if there is anything I can help with.  Please contact me with any questions, suggestions, comments!

Oliver Schinkten
Twitter:  @schink10


  1. Wow!
    Ollie, you are certainly taking your teaching to the next level. Great job with this article. I hope my son will have you as a teacher some day.

    1. Thank you, Tim! Your kind words are greatly appreciated!

  2. You are absolutely right! The greatest success are found in their journey, their efforts, and especially their reflection. I like how you wrote what would happen if every student had raised even half of what those girls did. Small contributions from every individual would make a giant impact on our society.

  3. Thank you, Amanda! I do believe that all students have the ability to change the world.

  4. I believe failure that is supported leads to innovation and greater learning. Thank you Ollie for continuing to get the word out.