"We are living a public life on a global stage, the ones who can express themselves best, will be heard." -Laura Hill Timpanaro, Artist, Author, Educator

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Fearless Teaching: Failing Your Way To Success

by Laura Hill

Yesterday my daughter came home from school glum. She is a good student and very social so I was surprised by the long face.  When I questioned her she pulled out her math test. “I bombed my test,” she said, handing it to me.

Bombing a test is not a big thing. As you get older you realize you will fail in many things before you succeed.  Tony Hawk tried 12 times before he stuck a 900 at the X Games in San Francisco.  J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter was rejected by dozens of publishers before being printed.  Michael Jordan was cut from his HS basketball team.  Thomas Edison claimed he never once made a discovery, instead working lines of logic until they reached their natural end, discarding the failures and trying again. 

He failed all the time, but he never gave up.

When my daughters and I write our Great Story World Mix-Up books it can take anywhere from a few days to six months to pen a manuscript.  Before that we spend weeks in group brainstorming sessions coming up with story arcs.  Many of the plot lines we develop are discarded, not because the ideas are bad, they just weren’t the best ones to move the story forward.

Our bad mistakes don’t end there.  I do a whole program on how we turn bad art into beautiful illustrations, reworking and rethinking each one until we feel a picture is just right.  Once we’ve got the story and the pictures together we still aren’t done because our editor hands us revisions that can be as simple as spelling errors or more extensive like suggestions on whole passages.  I have gone through manuscripts and scrapped entire chapters after putting them aside for a few months to gain perspective.

When I tell this to students they are really surprised.

I think students have a misconception that everything they do has to be successful. I’ve often wondered if this is due to the culture of instant gratification and overnight celebrity we live in, or if there is something more.  The focus on high stakes testing and measured learning has its place but maybe we are hampering a higher thought process that could lead students to even greater success.

If you aren’t willing to fail you will probably never succeed. 

I think that’s an important message to send to students.  I do a workshop where the project has no outcome, building a structure collaboratively only to tear it down or watch it fall apart.  Students are really surprised that I have them plan, problem solve and create to no end. The post project talk is about what worked, what failed and how we can co-op the best parts into an even greater creation.  The project is about the process, not the product.

I think if  students were less worried about failing they would be willing to take more risks, ask surprising questions and test theories that had never been tried before. This is the type of thinking that’s responsible for the amazing advances in technology and innovation we see today.  You have the opportunity to create a fearless culture in your classroom encouraging students to use new tools, technology and learning processes to explore and re-explore the world around them.  And that’s what will lead to higher thinking and change.

Today, educators are not just pillars of knowledge; they are leaders in teaching thought and building confidence so students can blow us away with their ideas.  After my daughter’s failure we talked and I realized she bombed the test because she didn’t ask for help, she was afraid not understanding would be perceived as failure.  I discussed this with her teacher and on the next test she was the only one to get 100% right.  Not because she was smarter, but because her teacher had build up her confidence and opened a path to dialogue that was unthreatening.

 You have the power, you have the tools, create a culture of fearless learning where failing to succeed is part of the project.  You’ll be surprised at the way your students respond and the brilliant ideas they come up with.
Laura Hill is an author and producer known for helping children find their voice and talents through creative arts and technology. To find out how you can bring her writing programs to your school email Laura Hill or tweet @candylandcaper. 


Read the books I write with my children.