There has recently been a number of articles, discussions and conversations about the role and importance of failure in learning and growing as individuals.  Discussion and debate continues about what is meant by failure, its value, and how much is necessary for learning, creativity, building character, grit, etc.  With more conversation about it, the more it can seem complex — because it is.  The discussion about it extends to schools, parenting, and the workplace.  The appeal to parents is often, “Let your kids fail”, but I am not sure parents understand or have been provided with a clear idea of what that means.  For schools and teaching it can be the same.  Where does it fit in? What does it really mean? Do the conditions allow for it to happen… to safely happen?  What is the messaging and pressure for both adults and kids?  How and where and what is OK?  What messages does society give?  I think Timothy King, a teacher, speaks to some of these same questions in his recent post.

Alfie Kohn wrote a good article about the considerations for schools.  A group of us who conversed on Twitter (#Fail2learn) continued to gather and discuss related articles, videos and blog posts.  They are also posted here.  I certainly don’t have any clear guidelines for parents, but I have always been a believer in knowing your child, and each child, as each may need a different approach in support, guidance, and in failure.  Different environments may impact too.

I worry that some statements around this can easily alienate parents and undermine parenting.  The “let your kids fail” kind of appeal can make my ears shut down.  Is there a more positive and empowering way to have this conversation?  I was encouraged by an article that recently came my way through social media sharing (thanks, Chris Wejr).  Although it was entitled, “Three Huge Mistakes We Make Leading Kids…and How To Correct Them”, it made me wonder if we can reframe this “failure” talk to: “Let’s help kids take leadership… in their learning and their lives”.  Would this allow for a better sharing of stories and strategies?  The part I especially liked in the article was near the end, “Eight Steps Towards Healthy Leadership”.  It is still about leading our kids, but I think it is just as much about helping kids take the lead over time.  The author acknowledges that there will be times when young people will need adult help and affirmation, but they also need support to try things on their own.  Here is the list of 8:

  • Help them take calculated risks. Talk it over with them, but let them do it. Your primary job is to prepare your child for how the world really works.
  • Discuss how they must learn to make choices. They must prepare to both win and lose, not get all they want and to face the consequences of their decisions.
  • Share your own “risky” experiences from your teen years. Interpret them. Because we’re not the only influence on these kids, we must be the best influence.
  • Instead of tangible rewards, how about spending some time together? Be careful you aren’t teaching them that emotions can be healed by a trip to the mall.
  • Choose a positive risk taking option and launch kids into it (i.e. sports, jobs, etc). It may take a push but get them used to trying out new opportunities.
  • Don’t let your guilt get in the way of leading well. Your job is not to make yourself feel good by giving kids what makes them or you feel better when you give it.
  • Don’t reward basics that life requires. If your relationship is based on material rewards, kids will experience neither intrinsic motivation nor unconditional love.
  • Affirm smart risk-taking and hard work wisely. Help them see the advantage of both of these, and that stepping out a comfort zone usually pays off.

Does this list cover it well? Would this help kids experience a good balance of failure and a personal role in their learning and growth? How would the list be different for schools?

I hope I don’t add to the talking in circles about this topic…just sharing my thoughts on this and thinking about the focus…. failing, learning, leading…