In 2007, I took my then 7-year-old sister to see Disney's Meet The Robinsons, a story of a child inventor who learns to "Keep Moving Forward" in the wake of failed experiments, no matter the obstacles or how frustrated and fruitless his attempts felt. The characters are similar to many of the gifted and creative students I taught in an Arts Academy in Oregon, although the results of their struggle were not quite so Disney-esque. Watching the film was a practice-altering experience. Clips still sift through my mind when I plan curriculum. It ignited ideas to reinvent my classroom as one that encouraged kids to "keep moving forward" in the face of challenge and failed first attempts in learning.
When failure become positive, when we not only allow students the freedom to fail but intentionally create experiences that help students experience, reflect on, and rebound from failure, we ignite sparks of creativity and resiliency in our students.
In the art world, the process is celebrated as much as the final products. When original sketches by master artists are discovered, they are examined with excitement and awe, clues to the genius of what was to become and are often displayed side-by-side with master works in museums. What have we traditionally done with student work created in attempt to reach mastery? What does our feedback convey to students about the worth of their work when it "fails" to meet the standard? What message is sent when first attempts in learning are given weight in a student's final grade?
Students who experience perfectionism are often paralyzed by fear of failure. Backpacks and notebooks are full of incomplete assignments. Work is secreted away to avoid feedback that indicates improvement is needed. Parents and teachers are left baffled by sudden declines in student achievement for students who encounter academic challenge for the first time in middle or high school. Imagine how the addition of positive and intentional F.A.I.L.ure activities from pre-school through high school could shift the mindsets and habits of learners.
The older the student the more difficult it can be to introduce positive F.A.I.L.ure, but this should not deter teachers from trying. We might even fail alongside our students and share our metacognitive process to learn from the experience. Have positive relationships, cultivate empathy, create innovative and collaborative spaces, and encourage F.A.I.L.ure.