My seventh graders and I have been talking a bit about failure this week. It happened in a round about way, one of our words for word study was valiant. In learning about bravery we discussed times we weren't brave. Some kids began talking about what they were scared of. Failure was listed at the top of their list. Then, I remembered Hank Green's video from this past Friday:
It was about how we don't talk about failure. I had that in the back of my mind Tuesday when I saw John Green's reply to his brother, sharing his own failure. I shared that video with my class on Wednesday.
After watching it, we wrote about our own feelings about failure. The kids were in agreement on one thing, they don't talk about it. They think failure is embarrassing. They try hard not to fail. I think we all do.
The thing is, John and Hank are right. We learn from failure. It is where we learn best. Being "safe" and making sure you don't fail is a sure-fire way to have a dull life. Failure is where the real stuff resides.
One kid asked me if I've ever failed. I laughed at first, but seeing a few earnest faces I realized they were serious. I reminded them that everyone has, but that wasn't enough. So I shared that my list of failures would encircle our classroom and spill in the halls.
Cheerleading, basketball, volleyball - all failed attempts to try out for something. Asking a boy out in middle school and being told no. Trying out for a music group in high school and not making it. Picking a sorority to rush, but not being accepted at that one. Applying for jobs and not getting them. Practicing and practicing for a meet, but getting last place. Getting 10,000 or more words into writing a book for teachers and knowing it won't be what I want it to. Giving up. All failures I've experienced in my 42 years on this planet, and there are so many more.
The thing is, that's ok. I've learned from everything I've done. It's made me more understanding of others. And, just as important, after each failure I've picked myself up and found something good in the experience and moved on. Sometimes to try again, sometimes to realize that this wasn't for me. I've also become a whole lot kinder to myself over the years. Not great, yet, but better than I was at the age of my beautiful students. If only I knew then what I know now. Wisdom and perspective come with age.
Failure. I hope that maybe our discussions on it will make my students reframe their own self-talk when they fail the next time. I hope it will make them treat someone kindly when that child fails in front of them. I hope, I hope, I hope. I hope they can learn to see the beauty in failure. It is there, you just have to look for it.
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