Failure Is Not An Option

There are so many life lessons around failure, and as a teacher, you will have to deal with it often, especially if your in your first three years of teaching, because you will absolutely mess some things up, but its ok, as we will learn today! Its is an emotional topic for many people and for kids especially, whether they are in kindergarten or in high school, they walk into our classroom with a prescribed definition of what failure means, based on their life experiences. In order to create a high value experience we must first define what failure is. I’m going to give you the dictionary definition, then a story about failure from an NFL player that highlights what will become the most effective definition of failure for you and your students in the classroom. When you see your classroom through the seal it with the smile lens, building affirming relationships is the key to an effective and fully functioning classroom. We all want our students to succeed, but what we fail to do as teachers, as parents, and as a society is show our kids the concrete steps that lead them and us to success. For kids who have struggled having a positive learning experience before walking into your classroom, redefining what failure is in your classroom is essential for their success.

According to Merriam – Webster, Failure is defined as

  • Omission of occurrence or performance; a failing to perform a duty or expected action, failure to pay the rent on time
    1. State of inability to perform a normal function: kidney failure
    2. An abrupt cessation of normal functioning : a power failure
  • Fracturing or giving way under stress; structural failure
  • Lack of success
  • Failing in business
  • Falling short
  • One that has failed: a feeling

Julian Edelman is a 7th round draft pick out of Kent state who now has earned two super bowl rings and is the leading receiver of the new England patriots. He holds the patriots franchise record for longest put return and the most punts returned for touchdowns (4). His teammate have given him several names such as “Minitron” (because Tom Brady said he was just like him), “The Energizer Bunny” because he never quits, and his supposed favorite nickname is “the squirrel” which was given to him by his teammates after he once yelled from the sidelines, “Don’t let me get squirrely out there!”. He has recently been blessed with a daughter, and is one of the few NFL players with a children’s book. The book called Flying High is about a squirrel who overcomes his physical limitations to pursue his dreams. At 5’10”, Edelman is considered short among his NFL peers, which is probably why he received the letter he posted on twitter a few months ago.

In July, Julian tweeted a picture of a letter he received from a former college professor who apologized for doubting his abilities and aspirations. The full text of the letter is below:

Dear Jules,

I’m not sure you’ll remember me: I was your teacher for your English 100 class at CSM in the spring of 2006. I’ve been wanting to write to you for, oh, what seems like a thousand years, to apologize to you for a flippant comment I made to you that semester. You may not even remember it, but I’ve felt bad about it for years. You made some comment about “going to the league,” and I said something about setting realistic goals, about how few people successfully enter the ranks of the professional athlete, blah, blah, blah. I don’t thing it fazed you, frankly, but whenever I think back on it, I feel terrible, not because you proved me wrong, but because I stupidly voiced an uneducated opinion that implied I had distain [sic] for your passion for the game. I think it was early in the semester, before I knew you, but how I could ever have doubted your tenacity and grit is beyond me! Again, I doubt you’ve even thought about it twice, but even so, I am sorry for wedging my foot so firmly in my mouth that day.

One of my first questions is… why? Why did this teacher/professor decided to interject his doubts into the mind of the young Edelman? Why? For what purpose? For what reason? Where was the benefit in participating in that operation?

Failure, with all of its different definitions, explanations, and illustrations, is not a permanent experience or situation. It is a temporary situation. To miss, to fracture, to be lacking or falling short is not permanent. Failure and Failing are situational in nature. Not only that, but some of the best lessons, the most valuable learning experiences we have experienced come from situations where our efforts have fallen short of our expectations. Or perhaps where our choices did not produce the result we wished or strived for.

When it comes to the classroom, failure is not an option. As in, failure should not be a diagnosis for any student’s situation inside or outside of the classroom. In fact, Failure does not exist and it should not exist in the classroom; it should not be something that should be talked about or encouraged. I would go so far as to not even allow the word to be spoken in a classroom setting, because the idea of failing and failure is like a fungus or mold, which can grow and spread, and fester in ways you could not imagine. In can rot the framing of a house, can destroy foundations, and make places uninhabitable.

What on the surface seems like failure is actually feedback; it is information that can be used to help us focus on what is missing, lacking, or needed. If we use what we call “failure” as information that can help our students achieve the results they want to achieve, using our kind and affirming relationships, we can create a classroom environment where our students use their “failures” as information that will help them get the results they want for themselves. Failure, the word, the meaning, the feelings behind it, is not an option in the classroom.

In his TED talk, Four-star general Stanley McChrystal talks about what it is to fail and what it is to be a failure. As the generals, leaders, in our classroom, it is important to make this distinction. I urge you to watch this video and apply its very important lessons and the lessons here to your classroom on a daily basis. It will not only benefit you, but can change the dynamic in the classroom to something that is both affirming and encouraging for both you and your students.

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