John Dewey recognised its importance when he said ‘failure is instructive’. Most success stories are crafted from failure, which is why organisations are beginning to recognise the intrinsic rewards that come from understanding and learning from it.
Harvard Business Review Magazine has devoted its April issue to the ‘f’ word – failure. There are some pearls of wisdom for schools in the articles by Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Amy Edmondson, Francesca Gino and Gary Pisano.
Kanter suggests that teams ‘that are immersed in a culture of accountability, collaboration and initiative are more likely to believe that they can weather any storm.’
These are the cornerstones of successful school communities – the ability to discuss (without judgment) what went wrong and why, to accept and respect differing points of view and to lift the capacity of team members.
When I read this, I thought of a comment Michael Fullan made last year about success and schools: ‘if the model of success isn’t working for a school then change it. Once teachers feel part of something successful, they will feel valued and they won’t think data is being used to judge. Data will then be used to unpack what is or isn’t happening and new strategies (and success) will follow.’
Failure is as much a part of education as any other life pursuit and yet there is a prevailing culture of wanting to avoid, defend and judge failure. Unfortunately, this message filters down to students.
Many school communities don’t test theories, investigate what went wrong and potentially mitigate future mistakes. Perhaps they don’t know how and that is something school and system leaders need to address. Perhaps we have something to learn from business but as HBR illustrate, the lessons are universal.
If we think the lessons learned from failure make better businesses and education systems, then what would it do for our students?
Sir Ken Robinson speaking at TED answers that:
“Kids will take a chance…they are not frightened of being wrong but if you’re not prepared to be wrong you’ll never come up with anything original. By the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong. We stigmatise mistakes and we are now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make. The result is that we are educating people out of their creative capacity.”
Can we afford not to succeed at failure?