Failing and failure has come up a lot lately. Some smart ladies from the #leadupchat tribe taught me the term failing forward. It is brilliant! It means that mistakes I make and errors I stumble through have more meaning than just disappointments and pits in my stomach.
Several weeks ago I was in twitter chat defending the idea of letting kids test inventions to failure so they could learn from it, revise, and come back with a stronger iteration. This happened in a fourth grade classroom of mine. Students spent time and budgeted pretend money to build an earthquake proof house and if the model fell down on the class shake table, they talked about which part of their design failed and redesigned it to be stronger and more resilient. At no point during the multiple design or testing phases of the engineering design process did the students fail, just their written plans and 3-d models. In the end, they worked together to gain applicable knowledge and had products they were proud of. They landed with their chins up!
When I first started working at Holm Construction, I took over communication with a client whose deck we had been rebuilding for several months. There were many obstacles and missteps before I got to the office, but as David Coleman taught me last weekend (at the AAFTP convening), even though it was not my fault, it was my responsibility. After our work was complete and we billed him, he sent an angry letter explaining why he wasn’t going to pay the full amount. My immediate response was to cry, but after gathering myself which took a bit, I read his letter. We had failed on a number of contractual agreements and many would have solved themselves with more regular communication during the length of his project. I learned from that failure and have made regular client updates and check ins a part of my work. I fell, and landed with my chin up!
Failing is a part of life. We are not always going to earn straight As, win the race, or be the best. But there is an opportunity to learn from each time we don’t succeed in the way we had hoped to. On perhaps the last Andy Greenwald podcast on the now defunct Grantland Network, actress Aya Cash from You’re the Worst talked about choosing to act in pilots that had writing and risks that inspired her rather than staying safe with shows she knew might have a longer life. Even if the pilots weren’t picked up and she was out of work again, she was okay with that and kept her chin up.
Whether we call failures failures or mistakes or missteps is not important. What is important is that we learn from them, change the way we move forward, and land with our chins up. If we set our students up to learn this in engaging ways such as through well designed Project Based Learning units, they can grow up to be resilient learners not afraid to take risks and fail with their chins up.