I’ve thought a lot about failure throughout teaching and throughout my life. Failure, or the fear of it, keeps a perfectionist from doing things. “I might fail,” the little voice echoes. But, I might not. Failure always feels so final. Like the death of a dream.
Now failure has become trendy. Pushing back against the idea that education should be a one-and-done box to check of mastery that either gets an A plus of success… or worse… failure. Failure is even kind of becoming a buzz word of sorts. Posters hang in schools that say, “Failure happens here.” While it’s good that we’re opening the door to different thinking, maybe failure isn’t what we’re after.
Failure is the wrong thing to chase.
Chase problem solving.
Chase the struggle.
Chase learning at all costs. Relentlessly. Planned and unplanned. Big and small. Joyful and hard. Fun and full of friction. Real.
Failure is an end point. A red-F on a test. A “you failed” message that doesn’t continue.
But risk? Problem solving? Struggle? Those things are all made to continue. The mere weight of the word “failure” can carry a strong message. But the idea that the beauty of true learning is in the struggle? That’s it. We don’t need to chase opportunities for our kids to fail big, but we need to allow them to struggle with the possibility of failing always being, well, a possibility. We need to avoid rescuing them. We need to teach them to have a mindset of optimism, resilience, and let go while they strengthen their toolkit in their own ways.
It’s not the chasing of failure, it’s everything else. Because life? It’s made of everything else.
Ocean waves. They swell, roll in, and crash.. recede. Some big, some small. The conditions of the environment wreak havoc on the waves.
Learning comes in waves. You get in the flow, ideas coming, things working… then it recedes. Sometimes the wave fizzles and the thing just doesn’t come to fruition. Sometimes, you ride the wave, all the way, and it’s the best feeling in the world. Success. But the truth is, we’d never have the flow without the ebb.
So much of the work that happens in classrooms around the world is more of a faucet. A steady, over controlled stream. No ebb, no flow, just a stream. We try to turn it on, turn if off. Stop. Start. Measure. That squelches all the great things that the ebb and flow teach us. Riding waves requires resilience, persistence, courage, collaboration, risk-taking, adapting… and so much more. Things that can’t be replicated in a predictable faucet stream. Things that will always rely on ebb and flow to take shape.
The more I read about creativity and design and what making is about, the more I experience, the more I appreciate the ebb and flow. We know we can’t control the ocean, but we sometimes think we can control learning. We reduce it to a thing and it loses it’s glorious messy process. An ocean without waves? It would lose it’s magic. Ebb and flow magic.
We seek comfort. It’s why I love familiar food, holiday traditions, and wearing pajama pants more often than real clothes on holiday break. It’s why I like rewatching Breaking Bad for about the fourth time. It’s why I open Photoshop instead of Illustrator when I want to draw. It’s why I love weekends that start off with a warm cup of coffee on a Saturday morning.
Those moments counteract the fear. But the lingering fear, “What if I stop improving?” counteracts it all. Pushes and pulls. Change is inevitable. Really letting go of our own fears means really truly embracing that intuition inside of us all. Not just cracking the door open, but putting down a “Bring It On,” welcome mat. Because maybe the fear in our head is there to push us in the right direction. Afraid? You should be.
If we live believing that each of us, in our own small way, is a message to the universe we might all head in the direction we need to. A message to improve ourselves, step by step, day by day, and push past the fear. If we do? We become what the world needs. We find true joy. We don’t win, there is no prize. The ‘prize’ is the thing that you can’t hold onto that you find on the other side of fear.
But if we stay afraid? None of us can afford to take that chance.
There will be no resolutions for 2017 for me. No “one word.” The only thing I will make?
A list of things I’ve always wanted to do but have never done. Developing my own photographs from a film camera. Self publish a book.Build something out of wood, from scratch and actually use it. Vacation somewhere nature-ish without wifi. I may add more, or I may not. I’m not afraid that the list is incomplete, I’m only afraid that I may not get started on it.
Conquering these things aren’t like ‘giant spider fear’ conquering. They are worse. They are about conquering yourself, and then enjoying a day in pajama pants to celebrate.
With the advertisement of maker-this and maker-that, there are a flood of products claiming to be the “next big thing” you need in your makerspace. I’ve tried some things I love, somethings I thought fell short, and I’m constantly on the lookout for new ideas, new gadgets, and new ways to use old things.
1.) USE: Is this tool versatile? Can it be used in an open ended way?
2.) GROWTH: Can this tool grow with the students?
3.) CHALLENGE: Is it going to offer hard fun? Is it a challenge?
4.) STUDENT-DRIVEN: Is it going to offer a fully student-driven experience? Or will it require a teacher to be in charge of it always?
5.) SOFTWARE/APP: Does it work with only one type of software or app? Does that app allow for open creation?
6.) CURRICULUM: Can it’s use be tied into existing curriculum for classroom experiences?
7.) QUALITY: Rechargeable? Sturdy? Is it going to hold up with multiple uses and a variety of kids tinkering with it or is it easy for kids to create with it?
I’m always looking at products and mentally scoring them… looking for a yes to the questions above. According to my questions, a hammer is a 7-star item! On the other hand, a set of robotic cubes I was SUPER excited about turned out to be so limited, they rarely left the shelf. Looking at the questions? It’s a 2-star (2 yes answers only). That doesn’t mean the product wasn’t fun, but it means it’s not fun for very long… or challenging. I know making is NOT about the stuff, but the stuff we stock our spaces with should stoke the fires of creativity.
It’s so important that you KNOW your students on a personal level, because their questions and creative ideas will guide what’s needed in the learning space. The kids favorite things in our space continue to be the found materials like cardboard, beads, pipe cleaners, and cardboard tubes. If several years ago, someone offered me a choice between a box of cardboard tubes or robotic cubes, I would have laughed and grabbed the cubes. Now I’m not so sure. Slowing down and thinking about how materials are used can help guide us to make the right choices, and in the end, make the best space possible for our students.
Saving files. Closing windows. Sharing a link. Updating a profile. I could name a gazillion (probably not a real number) technology skills that I think are important. But there is one… one that is more important than the rest…
In our click happy share fast world, it could be slowing down that matters more than anything. Taking time to think. Look. Think deep and critically…
What tool do I want to use?
What tool might be best for this?
Where did this information come from? Is it reliable?
How will I share this?
How might I troubleshoot?
Technology moves far too fast to know every detail. That’s what’s changed. In a society that moves quickly, we have to find ways to slow down, be in the moment, and process what’s happening on the screen, in the device, or in the conversation around us. People love to say that our kids are different – for their world is different than ours was. The truth is, we have to adjust AND be ready to help guide them. It’s a challenge for sure, but it’s going to be all about our ability to slow down, process, and deeply understand. To get out of their way.
But it’s the reason I believe in the deepest part of my soul, that making is the future of education. Entrepreneurial-ship. Ideas that change our world. Connecting with each other. Being a community. Thinking deep about improving something, then doing it. Helping our kids be WHATEVER they dream of and DREAMING big. Because when we use technology that’s one thing. But when we create with technology, and add in tangible, hands on materials? It’s us slowing down, and somehow in the midst we become the kind of learning environment that kids need, simultaneously becoming the kind of learning environment our kids need. Because we are all learners.
Several years ago, I was in the midst of a hard year of teaching. I had also, around the same time, discovered the power in connecting with other educators through social media. I was on a mission to notice the good. I started a photo project called #edugood. A small group of us took a photo a day of something positive and shared it. Some days it’s easy, others? It’s harder. Our classrooms, hallways, and schools are filled with so much good. The more we share it, the better for us all.
Enter Michael Buist.. who sent me a state license place with EDUGOOD on it. To this day, it’s in my office. I don’t know how in the world I’ve never met Michael in person– I mean, he’s one of the most positive folks EVER and he’s a maker creator du’jour with his students. But he’s had a positive impact on me and my teaching in so many ways.
I think I’ve come full circle when it comes to connecting online. I’m in a great place. I see tons of good every single day. Should I stop sharing it? Nope. Because there is a teacher somewhere who was that teacher I was a few years ago, in the midst of a challenging year. The truth is, we ALL need each other. We need people to support us, challenge us, listen to our crazy ideas. I count my blessings everyday that I have colleagues in my hall who “get” me and I would do anything to help them.
Speaking of good things…. Michael just beat cancer. (Michael I hope you don’t mind me shouting out for your success, but seriously, nothing’s more #edugood than YOU!) So for someone who helped ME see the good in everyday a few years ago when I just needed it, I’m sending out an international call for help to share the #edugood in YOUR day. For Michael’s success in his journey. For the teacher down the hall. For the colleague who needs it. For yourself. For our kids.
Our students all over the world deserve our very best selves and we need to do everything we can to be our very best selves. And the days we feel like we can’t carry on with our best, we can lean on each other. One hug, one tweet, one positive message on Instagram, one secret good deed that only you know about?