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.