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Fail Fast & Often…and Let Your Kids (& Students) Know About It!

What do this broken tamper, burnt cutting board and stained hair turban have in common? #MomFails!  

As painful (not physically, thank goodness, but just super bummed to lose some of my favorite possessions) as it was to go through these failures, it was a rich treasure I gained from authentic conversations with my kids about failure. It made me realize that I don’t share enough with my kids about all of the times I mess up.

I don’t think I intentionally hide my failures, but then as I reflect, maybe I do (gasp!).I guess it’s part of human nature to not want to wear your flops like the scarlet A. But should we? Should we own our mistakes a little more loudly to prove to ourselves and others that we embrace a growth mindset and are lifelong learners? Isn’t life really about learning through failure?

I remember my first car accident, well, fender bender, really. I was in traffic reading my mail. No, not email on my phone, but good ol’ fashioned snail mail from the mailbox. I figured I would multitask and get it out of the way while waiting in the car. Big oops. I bumped into the person in front of me, costing me all of my graduation party money I had just received. Do you think I ever read mail again in the car? No, sirree.

Learning through failure. We do it all the time; we just may not take the time to reflect on it and share the learning with others because failure has been marked taboo in our culture. Those failures are the solid foundation for true learning! Once you have an idea of what doesn’t work (through failure), it gives you great insight into what just might work.

Did you know that there’s an actual Museum of Failure in Sweden that celebrates this faux pas!? A whole museum dedicated to displaying the errors, oversights, blunders, inaccuracies, omissions, and misunderstandings of others! How refreshing. How wonderful to see the prize moved from perfect product to LEARNING through failure.

I can’t talk about learning through failure without mentioning the design cycle and design thinking. The design cycle is a structured tool to help generate solutions to challenges. It has been used by engineers, developers, and scientists for years now as they try to figure out solutions to problems. Now, more and more educators are using design thinking in the classroom.  A big part of the design cycle is learning through failure. Check out this virtual crash course in Design Thinking by Stanford’s d.school to learn more.

Where to go from here?

How are we taking our students and children through the design cycle and actually celebrating failure, whether at school, at home, at the park, in a game of chess?

    1. Model failure yourself. Be the first to talk about your mess-ups with your students/kids. They will gradually see that it’s normal to fail and that IT’S A GOOD THING because you learn a whole lot more!
    2. Ask your child, “What did you fail at today?” Sounds weird, but I remember reading this on a list of questions you should ask your child every day. Oftentimes, I would just ask my child, “How was your day?” And you can guess the response. “Good.” “Fine.” And that’s all I got.
    3. Create your own Museum of Failure in your home or classroom. Could be as simple as post-its on a door. This gives an opportunity to reflect on those oops moments and extract all the learning from them! It also shows that failing is something to be proud of, not shameful of.

And, hey, if you’ve got some extra money laying around, a field trip to the Museum of Failure in Sweden wouldn’t hurt either;)

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