Failure, Failure, Failure, Failure, Failure... Success?

We recently launched a full trimester version of  Expeditionaries  at Regis High School. A handful of seniors will spend the remainder of their time in high school working full time, every day, on social entrepreneurship projects. In this photo, some of them are building “User Needs” points of view. These POV statements will give shape to the social impact problems that matters to them. They also provide an early experience of “failure” as “learning.”

We recently launched a full trimester version of Expeditionaries at Regis High School. A handful of seniors will spend the remainder of their time in high school working full time, every day, on social entrepreneurship projects. In this photo, some of them are building “User Needs” points of view. These POV statements will give shape to the social impact problems that matters to them. They also provide an early experience of “failure” as “learning.”


When we run Expeditions, I like to ask students this question:

“In school, is it possible to take the first several assessments in a class and fail, fail, fail, fail, fail, fail… then all of a sudden earn an A and end up with an A for the term?”

They tend to chuckle ruefully.

“And yet the real world often works that way,” I tell them, “—as long as you treat the experience not as ‘failure’ but rather as ‘learning’.”

They experience this at the start of an a Expedition when they craft a User Needs point of view. They want v1.0 of the statement perfect, but they soon learn that they must:

  • test their first draft

  • learn how their original hypothesis makes sense and how it falls short

  • update the POV statement

  • repeat

In other words, they have to fail multiple times before they can succeed.

I once worked with a teacher who got upset about this idea. “Why would we want to make our students fail?” he demanded to know.

“Nobody wants students to fail,” I told him.

We want them to demonstrate resilience in the face of failure.

But it’s not enough to pay the idea lip service. We literally have to design learning experiences that enable students to reframe failure as learning.

Otherwise, they will continue to experience failure as failure. Meanwhile, resilience will elude them.

Where are you designing opportunities for students to succeed because of “failure,” not in spite of it?

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Christian Talbot