One of the biggest problems I have in my classroom are students who are scared of failure. This sounds counterintuitive, I am sure. Students are supposed to not want to fail, they are supposed to want to get the A. When I say failure, I am not talking about the grade. I am talking about ideas and trying new things. So ofter, students want the right answer, to figure out the best solution before even trying. And we can’t blame them. Most of the time, students are conditioned this way. However, that’s not the way the world works.
We do our students a better service when we encourage them to try new things even if it means failure. It’s part of an iterative process. Learning that something failed can be exciting because now you know more and can try a different approach. When students are paralyzed by their fear of failure, they miss out on this valuable learning experience. Not only do students learn more about the content, but they are also pracitcing Habits of Mind, such as “taking responsible risk” and “persistence.”
So, if we find ourselves teaching a classroom full of students terrified of failure, what can we do? I believe the best place to start is by modeling the behavior we want to see. Currently, I am reading the book, Evolving Learner, by Laine Rowell, Kristy Andre and Lauren Steinman (and I highly recommend it!). In the introduction, they write, “When we, as educators, unburden ourselves of the role of expert and embrace the role of learner, we don’t fear failure.”
It sounds so simple, but we as teachers have also been conditioned that we need to be the experts. In the book, they quote Chris Dede, professor at the Harvard Gradute School of Education who says, “Intellectually, you get it and you want to do it, because you want to be successful, but emotionally and socially, it’s very, very difficult for you to change because you’re making a fundamental change to your identity.”
However, I think it is worth a try. If you are having trouble making the shift from expert to learner, I invite you to watch a video George Couros shows in his presentations. I don’t want to give too much away, but you can see it here.