Day 3: A Foundation Built on Failure

For today’s TeachThought reflection, I turn to the wisdom of John Wooden. His words continue to inspire my thinking and shape my philosophy of education and coaching…


Today was the official opening day of the school year in which all students reported to classes. I stood outside my classroom door and greeted one class of seniors, two groups of juniors, and introduced myself to two classes of freshmen–a healthy sample of our student body. As usual, some students were excited to reunite with friends, share adventure stories and buzz about the latest happenings, while others drag their way down the hall, not at all enthused to be back in class.

In my quest to create a culture of learning in our district, I avoid handing out a course syllabus with rules, curriculum, and grading policies on day one (or two). We need to establish some level of community through relationships build on trust and respect. So after welcoming them to the class….(I pause and quickly scan to see if anyone walked into the wrong room)…we have to take time to get to know each other. I’m not a fan of cheesy name-game-ice-breakers but it is important to give everyone an initial voice in the class. Instead, I dedicate the first few days to identifying and analyzing our learning styles. A self-understanding leads to a greater sense of identity and recognition of our diverse strengths as learners. These discussions launch our study of culture, behavior, human nature, and our perceptions of success.

Because everyone’s definition of success varies, so does the meaning of failure. I have outstanding students. I really do. They are under tremendous pressure due to the expectations of parents, society, and themselves. Many of them stress over grade point average rather than understanding; they play school–compliant, but not truly invested in their education. And this is why I need to be as transparent as possible in communicating learning expectations and performance standards, not only with students, but with their parents as well.

I am finally prepared to guide my students through the year with standards-based learning and grading (despite our traditional system of reporting). In the past, I have implemented pieces of the system, but the transition takes patience and time. Our department has five categories of standards, common assessments linked to learning targets within each unit, rubrics with descriptors and levels of proficiency, and a commitment to have students monitor their progress–all of which will be documented in future posts. My mission, as always, is to help students learn with a purpose.

The new strategy to my approach: I will start by exposing students to failure–fun, everyday failures we hardly notice. Throughout the room will be competitive challenges. Some will challenge the individual, like mastering a Rubik’s cube within a short amount of time, a game of solitaire, and a station of Nintendo DS Super Mario Bros (I swear it’s my children’s). Other tables will feature peer competition, with a determined winner (and therefore, losers). We will have dice and card games where only one person can win before re-dealing. But that doesn’t sound fair…

The key to the activity will be the reflective portion to follow. Why do we continue to put ourselves through the pain of resetting our Mario game before we conquer the level, or reshuffle the cards only to fail again, or even bother with a Rubik’s cube? How do we cope with failure? How do we deal with others’ success? Why does it take longer for some to learn? What can we do to improve the next time? Do we get frustrated, quit, or persevere?

The conversation will set a foundation for this year’s journey. Hopefully, it reinforces what is most important in school and we shift the mindset. Learning must be the priority over grades. As Garnet Hillman (@garnet_hillman), co-moderator of #sblchat, advises, “When learning happens, the grade will follow.” I love that mantra.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s