Celebrated Failure

Model true acceptance and celebration of the inherent power of failure.

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I've been reading Kevin Brookhouser's book on 20Time, and thinking quite a bit about our expectations and behaviors as teachers. We often talk about accepting failure, and how it is acceptable, but how often do we fall back into the ingrained habit of avoiding it like the plague? What if we truly made failure an ok thing for our students? I think modeling the power behind our screw-ups and misconceptions could really help build an innovative culture.

How could we model this? 

My background is in music education and school librarianship, and something that comes to mind immediately is technology. Teachers are always being introduced to new technology and tools to use in their classroom. I often hear from teachers I work with that they need more time to learn it before they are willing to use it with their students. What if we, as teachers, learned new skills with our students. We are sometimes stuck in the mindset that we must be experts, myself included, and it's a sign of weakness to make mistakes in front of our kids. True innovation with educational technology requires failure.

  • Try new tools with your students
  • Model the process of problem-solving when a website, piece of software, tool, doesn't work the way you think it should
  • When there are problems ask students what they would do to figure it out
  • Pay attention to the connections to technology you have used before
  • Dedicate time, class time, to explore new tech and new ideas
  • If you learn on your own time, explain those steps to your students
  • Celebrate your own mistakes with your students

So technology is a broad area that applies to at least some part of our day with students. What else do we have? These are some more examples that you could apply to your own teaching.


  • We have to make mistakes when learning music
  • Modeling practice will help students feel more comfortable making their own mistakes
  • Record musical "failures" and play it back to your students after they have worked hard to improve

English Language Arts

  • Model the process of writing with emphasis on revision, that revision can be a constructive and productive response to failure
  • As in other arts, success is relative... how many rejection letters does the average author get before one publisher decides otherwise
  • Show students your own writing, early writing of other writers

Math (I've had plenty of failures here)

  • Depending on the topic, failures in math may be easy to spot, and more concrete
  • Celebrate wrong answers, because they offer an opportunity to dive deeper into the process of getting the answer


  • Admit to your staff when ideas don't work
  • No apologies, just give examples of how failing brings good change, innovative change
  • Allow your teachers to take risks and fail, including during times they are teaching and learning with students
  • Not only allow, make the celebration and sharing of "failures" of your teachers part of your culture, do it as a family

These are just some examples. I know many of you will have awesome ideas to embrace the power of failing in your own content areas. Let me know your thoughts and ideas on the potential power behind failing. 


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Photo of Bob Weiman

I thought of your post and the other ones about failure when I saw this awesome bulletin board outside one of our teacher's classrooms!

Photo of James Allen


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