Schools should be places where students can fail!

Did I get your attention :-)?  What do I really mean by this? I believe schools should be places that model what happens in the real world.  In the real world, we try things and don’t always achieve the original goal/outcome, but benefit greatly ourselves or contribute to others because of the experience.  If students are going to be equipped with the skills to over come the obstacles and challenges in their future, they need a chance to learn how to fail and then reflect to take the next action.

I first articulated this idea in my mind after viewing and discussing the film Race to Nowhere at NIST International School last school year.  The main point of that film and that movement is about how students’ time is being robbed from them by excessive homework and academic pressures that lead to no known proven academic (nor social emotional) improvement.  The tragedy of the film is that a young girl takes her own life because of a test score.  Why would someone consider taking their own life because of a poor performance on a school assessment?  I think the answer is two-fold, one of them is the point made by the film and the movement (pressure to excel academically at all costs).  The second is a failure of many school systems to help students develop a pathway forward for the times they do fail to meet the goals they had planned.

I think the Inquiry and Contructivist approach to the IB Programmes is a step in the right direction.  In a recent interview, I was asked what I meant by the phrase that “schools should be places where students can fail.”  And I referred to the cycle of inquiry as an example.  Due to the time restraints (and adrenaline going through my veins), I didn’t zoom in on the ACTION component of inquiry…but that is what I’m getting at.  Schools need to continually encourage attempts at action (both personal and group action).

If you read my last  posting, you may remember that it was about students planning and taking meaningful/mindful action.  What percentage of students, aged 11-13, do you think went 10 days with drinking only water? ZERO.  What does that mean?  They didn’t care, they didn’t try, etc…is one way to interpret that result.  The other would be to find out “why” and to find out “do you want to try again” and if so “why and how” and if not “why”? in an open and honest forum.

We want students to set high standards for themselves, and if we only consider them successful when they reach those high standards, and students don’t find happiness in setting high standards and doing their best, we are tricking ourselves.  Students will simply set the bar low enough for them to become “successful” in that type of culture.

If students can learn to set goals, plan pathways of action to reach those goals, reflect on the successfulness of the action, and repeat…they will begin to develop a mental model for dealing with “failures” in their future.

Now, do you think the same thing should be true for teachers and administrators…should school’s be places where “people” can fail?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below or reach me on twitter @danmagie.


About ibdanmagie

Generalist Educator that believes learning without action is wasteful. Transfer is an educational concept that resonates with me.
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3 Responses to Schools should be places where students can fail!

  1. brianneises says:

    I personally love setting up “fail” points in my projects. Points where students are allowed to fail, AND learn from it, not just a single point at the end where you fail and then move on to something else. This reduces the pressure on them because they have time to master through formative feedback and they can experiment and push themselves knowing that their grades won’t suffer if they “fail”.
    Great post Dan!

  2. stevej says:

    Yeah, great post indeed….
    I think it’s really important to have a culture that accepts that mistakes happen and things don’t always work out especially, as in the IB system, if you are trying to develop a risk-taker mentality.
    Encouraging a more playful attitude to learning and life in general would be a big step in the right direction from the outset
    It’s also important that teachers are allowed to model that fact that occasional failiure is an inevitable part of taking risks but failiure can (and should) be turned in to success if the approporiate learning gets done as a result…….
    …in which case….. it’s impossible to fail…;)
    ……..even better if you can build inevitable failiure/’learning junction’ scenarios in to your teaching….. because if you do this on a regular basis, and make sure that the lessons get learned, students might start preparing for the possibility of initial failiure and start devloping back-up-plan strategy from the get go.
    ‘That didn’t work out…no worries, lets move to plan B’ a teacher who often puts on concerts and public events when any number of things can go wrong, it’s quite useful to have plans b, c,d,e and f already worked out in advance….why not teach this….

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