Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Growing from Failure

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Growing from Failure

Article excerpt

"I don't see failure as a negative thing. I just see that as part of my training, my process, learning, experimenting, getting it wrong so that I can get it right."

--Ryan Hall, marathoner

No coach ever expects a swimmer to have a perfect stroke the first time she pushes off from the wall or a runner to complete a marathon under three hours in his first attempt. And no teachers expect every answer will be correct from every student every time.

So, why is it that so many educators write as though they expect me to believe they have flawlessly achieved success? No stumbles, no bumps, no mistakes. It's refreshing to read articles in which authors actually acknowledge that they made mistakes, learned from them, and got better at their work. This issue of Kappan is unusual because several authors have done just that. (My favorite line in this issue comes in the piece written by our new teacher columnist, John T. Spencer: "I don't want to view failure as the enemy.")

I value this honesty about mistakes because I've come to believe that failure may actually be an essential component of success, both for individuals and organizations. Certainly, you can make a case that many individuals had to experience extreme failure before they found the fortitude to remake themselves and try again. Just ask any of the athletes of the recently completed Olympic games about the failures they endured before they met success. The lessons learned, the re-evaluation that occurs, the strategies--those may be stages of development and refinement necessary before someone or some organization can move ahead.

What sets apart those who fail and later achieve is their ability to closely examine their practices, envision a different ending, and be willing to change themselves and their practices so that they can achieve that new result. Alfred Einstein is credited with defining insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." If you want a different result, you must change.

But the willingness to change is insufficient unless it's accompanied by a clear vision of what you want to achieve. …

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