I Failed. Have You?

This afternoon, I received an email telling me that Kristi Keery-Bishop published a new blog post. The title of the post, #Fail, had me quickly clicking to read it, even though I only had a few minutes to do so. There are many things that I appreciate about Kristi as a blogger, an educator, and an administrator, and one thing is her honesty … even when it may be a challenge to share. Kristi’s post has inspired me to be honest too.

This post of mine is not about failure connected to my “one word goal” (reflections on that goal are for another post), but it is about failure. My confession: I’ve failed a lot, both in my child and adult life. These are just some of my failures …

  • There was my failure in Visual Arts when my work products — no matter how hard I worked — never met expectations.
  • There was my failure in instrumental music, when I decided to choose the tuba to play because nobody else picked it, and doesn’t tuba sound like a wonderful word?! Little did I know that the tuba is a massive instrument and that walking it home to our family condo each week was way beyond my capabilities. Nobody that lives in a condo complex wanted to hear me play the tuba either. After a year of struggles, the music teacher gave me the bells the next year. When I say “bells,” I mean that I got “a bell” that I rang when she pointed at me. That was failure.
  • There was the failure in geography, when I couldn’t even find Ontario on a map. It took nights of tears and hours of time with my step-dad to just memorize the map locations to pass the test. Even today, I struggle with finding Ontario on a map (more #ConfessionsOfAviva).
  • There was my grown-up failure in winter parking. Every time the snow fell, and I couldn’t find the lines in the parking lot, I managed to park in multiple spots and mess up the entire parking lot. Eventually the whole staff at one of my previous schools needed to meet the expectations in my Parking I.E.P., and shift assigned spots on those days when we couldn’t see the lines. Parking failures is one of my favourite blogging topics. 🙂 
  • Then there was a failure where I didn’t meet a classroom goal that I wanted to meet. When someone pointed out to me what I could have done to meet this goal, and what I really should consider for another year, I felt like a failure. While she offered her help, and her ideas might very well work, the fact that I didn’t come close to meeting this goal, made me feel even worse about myself. 

While some of these failures may cause a chuckle from me now, the truth is — at the time at least — I agree with Kristi that “failing sucks.” And although I do believe that we can learn a lot from many of our failures, maybe one thing that we can also learn — and should learn — is that sometimes we will failBlog posts and Twitter conversations have almost turned every failure into something great. As Kristi mentions, terms like grit, perseverance, and even cute acronyms like F.A.I.L. (First Attempt In Learning), make us see the positive side of failure. Yes, we should learn from our mistakes. Yes, there is value in trying again. And yes, not every initial mistake is going to lead to a life-long failure … but maybe, sometimes, it will. Maybe we do need to teach children how to also deal with the upset that comes from this kind of failure, so that they can also move past it to a success.

I think about the failures that I shared above. No matter how hard I may work, how many times I try again, and how many different strategies I use,

  • My art work will never be used as a model for others — except for maybe what not to do.
  • My tuba playing will cause many children and adults to plug their ears.
  • My map reading skills will either lead you into the ocean or onto the wrong road.
  • I will never be hired as a parking valet.
  • And I cannot go back and meet the classroom goal that I didn’t meet … at least not for that particular class.

Some may see this as a pessimistic outlook. I see it instead as reality, but with the knowledge, that there are many more things that I can do — and have done — well. If we make students and ourselves believe that “failure is not an option,” do we only increase the anxiety (and feelings of upset) of those people that have tried and have failed? I think we’ve all experienced failure, and I wonder how much we could learn from each other (and teach our children) if we all shared these experiences. (As an aside, yes, these thoughts are uncomfortable ones to write because it seems strange to talk about failure in this way.) What do you think?


5 thoughts on “I Failed. Have You?

  1. Dear Aviva,
    This post fascinated me. I think as Educators we feel intense pressure not to “fail” at anything. I find this really weighs on me a great deal. I feel like I failed a little one this year who has so many stressors as I am learning in Self-Reg. I could have and should have done so many things differently. Thankfully I have her for one more year so that I can put better measures in place.

    I have an 11 year old that stresses intensely about failing to do things perfectly. Have I been able to “fix” this in my own son? Sadly, no. I work with him as patiently as I can and try to coach him along. I’m hoping the Self-Reg book will give me insight here too.

    I may not have the deepest of thoughts here. However, I truly believe that one of the greatest gifts we have as educators and/or parents is that of reflection and perseverance. Even though we feel as though we have “failed” at something, we have the strength to reflect on what we might change next time and we persevere to make things better -academics, self-regulation, etc.

    So if we reflect and persevere when we hit one of those bumps or “fails” and find a different method or strategy, is it truly a “fail”? No, I don’t think so. This is how we evolve and grow as educators. I will endeavour to remind myself of this when we return to the class in September 😊.
    All the best,

  2. Aviva – I got so taken up in my thought as to is it a “fail” that I missed my original thought (…my fail as a result of too much sun…). We need to coach kids through the upset of a fail -be it real or perceived. We need to model that even though we reflect and persevere and try out plan B or plan C, that the result isn’t always going to be perfect. It needs to be modelled repeatedly. I endeavour to do that when I play with my kiddies and when I do things with my own kids. However, it’s easier said than done, to instill a comfort level or tolerance of failing/imperfection. My struggle is still how to do this with those hyper-aroused or hyper-sensitive children. Both of my sons are like that while my daughter is more comfortable with a fail. Is it the confidence to say I’ve done my best? Is it teaching them to self-regulate in order to recognize their stressor (failure) and how to calm? Even 19 years into this job, I’m still unsure.

    • Thanks for the comments, Helen! Failure is such a hard thing to think and write about. I definitely agree with the importance of reflection and perseverance, and in many ways, these are the things that help us not fail and recover from upsets along the way. That said, I’m also worried when we create an environment and belief for ourselves and our students that with grit and/or perseverance, we’ll never really fail and always be able to bounce back. For will we?

      I think about some students that I sent to special classes over the years. These were really hard meetings and really hard decisions. The whole year was about trying, failing, trying again, failing again, and realizing that student needs exceeded what I could do alone (or even what an EA and I could do together) in a classroom. That failure ultimately led to success for the students — in an environment with support systems that were better suited to meet their complex needs — but at the time, and even considering all of the circumstances, it still felt like a failure. How do we become okay with this feeling? How do we help students understand this feeling? And maybe, most challenging of all, how do we still encourage perseverance when also knowing when/how to accept failure (acknowledging the learning that happened along the way)?

      I also think about the stories of your own children, and how you model failure through play. I really like what you’re saying here. I never really thought of these conversations linking to the idea of “failure” before, but they do. It’s interesting that this works for your daughter, but not for some other children. When you speak about it not working for those “hyper-aroused or hyper-sensitive children,” what do you mean? How do they respond? I wonder if this modelling almost needs to happen before a failure versus during one. What do you think? What have you noticed?

      Thanks Helen for continuing this important conversation!

  3. Hi Aviva,
    This is such an interesting topic and there are so many ways of looking at it! I have been reflecting on your post through the lens of my “one word”, which has been Perspective. I really feel that this is the key. Instead of putting a negative spin on the word failure, we can ask questions and develop strategies (as Helen mentioned) to address what went ‘wrong’. Underlying all of this, is our ability/willingness to recognize the ‘failure’. I think that sometimes it is just as important to understand that we (or students) might not be able to do some things as well as others. Is that a failure or is it understanding that we all have our strengths and weaknesses? Somewhere, I hope, there is a balanced way of looking at ‘failure’.
    Thanks for your thought provoking post!


    • Thanks for the comment, Kim! I think that your point about “perspective” is an important one. Maybe it’s less about the failure itself, and more about the thinking that comes out of the failure. When we think about why we failed, what we could have done differently instead, and/or what supports we need in order to succeed, then failing is not a “conclusion,” but the starting point for future choices/approaches/decisions. I struggle a bit with believing that if we just have “grit,” then we can all truly do anything, but maybe it’s a combination of knowing when to persevere and when to accept failure: figuring out what “success” requires (even if that sometimes means changing our initial goal). Thanks for continuing this important discussion.


      P.S. In Kristi’s post, she also talks about the successes in the failure, and that’s important too. A failure does not need to be a complete one (and I think often isn’t one).

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