Teaching and Embracing Failure

I’m still on a high from the most recent MACUL Conference in Detroit last week – blog post coming soon. There were so many inspiring, energetic, compassionate, and passionate educators discussing a variety of ideas. I’m still trying to focus and organize my thinking around all that I just experienced and absorbed. Ann Smart wrote a great post about this feeling – The MACUL Hangover. 

Something that gets talked about a lot is creating a space for students to feel safe enough to take risks and to fail. Not only do students need this opportunity, but teachers do as well. Being a teacher is incredibly challenging in the best of environments. Without an administration and a staff that values collaboration, sharing, risk-taking, and innovation, teachers are going to be very hesitant to try something new.

I came across this article in from The Huffington Post about the recent Science Fair at the White House. President Obama invited students for the fifth time during his administration to share their projects they created. There were a variety of students, states, and ideas represented. Students and teachers could also participate from anywhere in the world using Twitter. If you haven’t checked out some of the cool things students made, I encourage you to search the hashtag #WHsciencefair. One thing that struck me in the article was the ways in which we teach students – not just science but all subjects:

Every test question has a right answer. Every lab has known results. We emphasize facts rather than the process and joy of science. We praise success but don’t sufficiently reward effort.

How can we we expect students to innovate and take risks when much of their learning is already pre-determined? If we cannot allow students authentic opportunities to truly discover, to tinker, to make, and to figure out, are we really preparing them for the “21st century”? Perhaps more importantly, are we really preparing them to be engaged critical thinkers?

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