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 happened to read my last  posting at “Transferable”, 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.

P.S. Thank you @whatedsaid for inspiring this collaborative blog and welcoming me in!  Thank you @Embed_Ed for encouraging me to make my first posting.

About ibdanmagie

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

  1. Hello,
    Love your blog post! I also posted something along the same lines on my blog this past Sunday. Check it out : CanadianTechEd: Preparing my students for the future


  2. whatedsaid says:

    Hi Dan

    Welcome to Inquire Within. Thanks for your first post. Some random thoughts and wonderings generated by your post:..
    I work in a privileged school where parents often try and protect their children from ‘failure’ instead of helping them build resilience. I wonder if they realise that they are doing them a disservice…
    I wonder how often teachers (even those who talk and write about the value of ‘failure’ in the process of learning) actually talk to their students about it…
    The choose, act, reflect cycle in PYP (not sure if it’s across all IB) is a great model that we should probably post on the wall in the classroom, and constantly refer to. It would help in the process of goal setting, reflecting, dealing with ‘failure’. decision making…
    That’s just for a start! Thanks for making me think. More mulling ahead..


    • danmagie says:

      Thank you, Edna.

      Your wonder about teachers explicitly talking about resilience and the realities of life long learning makes me think. I use a mastery assessment approach in my G6 and G7 MYP classroom and I think students understand why…but I want to try to be more explicit with the ‘why’. I also want to say I don’t use words like ‘fail’ or ‘failure’ with students (i wanted a blog post title that might attract attention :).

      In short, when the PYP and MYP models of education are done well, I believe they model the fundamental ideas of ‘try and try again and/or extend’. From reading your online thoughts, Edna, I would guess you do too!

      Take care, Dan


    • liz says:

      I used a plan-do-review cycle in a HighScope school with very little children and it was so valuable for them to learn to try something out and think about what did and didn’t work. It was such an interesting experience to watch these little kids (2+) start to reflect on how well they were able to achieve their goals and make plans for what to do next time to get closer. It is an easier conversation to have with parents of little children than older, where grades and data are so prevalent in school culture. Maybe ‘failure’ isn’t the correct term to use in conversations with parents.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Tasha Cowdy says:

    Hi Dan!
    I love this post and agree whole-heartedly. Your post reminded me of an article I read a few weeks ago about a secondary school in England that was having a “Failure Week” to explore the concept of failure. I thought their approach was inspired and visionary! You may well have seen the article already, but of not, here’s the link:
    Wimbledon High School encourages pupils to ´embrace failure´ as a learning experience


  4. ibdanmagie says:

    Thank you, Tasha!


  5. Pingback: Failure in inquiry | Inquire Within

  6. Pingback: The importance of failing | | Tasha CowdyTasha Cowdy

  7. Hi there, just wanted to tell you, I enjoyed this article.
    It was practical. Keep on posting!


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