Celebrating Failures

I remember the chaos, hearing people screaming and pushing to get to the exits.

I remember sliding down the airplane safety slide. I thought it was fun.

I was 5, and it was my first trip to Greece. The Olympic Airlines jumbo jet blew a tire during take off. We circled around JFK airport and made an emergency landing. We sat crouched down, holding our knees. I remember taking a peek and looking up at my Mama. She was calm, confident that everything was going to be alright. Her faith guiding her through this unforeseen failure to depart.

I always think about my first airplane ride, when I fly. And I did this summer, as I traveled to Greece with my daughter. Our trip to Greece was a homecoming of sorts for me. I knew it was going to be an emotional journey. It was time for me to heal and reflect on my personal failure; the breakdown of my marriage and divorce.

At times, I feel society is a bit obsessed with failure. The Silicon Valley mantra of “Fail Fast, Fail Often” is one that comes to mind. I think this ideology is misleading. People celebrate everything from failing early to failing quickly to failing cheaply to failing forward — whatever that means.

 

I also feel we celebrate failure a bit too much. Our learners have become accustomed to failing and celebrating the failure. Many times a player or losing team gets a “participation prize”, a reward for failing. As educators, we constantly tell our learners to embrace it.  “Mistakes are good”, “Failure is our friend”, “Lets celebrate our failed attempts!”. 

I can’t help but wonder, should every failure be celebrated? Are we celebrating the failure or the learning and risk taking? Is there something to celebrate from my personal failure?

I thought about these questions for a long time, a few things did come to mind. While this loosening of attitudes toward failure is without a doubt valuable, we, as educators, really need to be careful that we’re not focusing on the wrong thing. Failure is not our goal. Failure is simply a common byproduct — it’s not the desired end-product. 

The only way that failure becomes useful is if you reflect on it, learn from it. We should be celebrating this learning and risk taking, not the actual failure itself. And yes, there is much to learn from our failed attempts. Most of the learning from our defeat helps us to feel better about being defeated. Coming to terms with it provides us with a coping mechanism for an experience that is naturally and excruciatingly unpleasant.  Accepting it gives us the hope that we can live to see another day; it transforms a loss into a gain, and it increases our resilience as we imagine the possibilities of the future.

As I reflect back on my first plane ride, I can remember the thunderous sound of the plane skidding on the pavement and the smell of fumes. When it finally came to a complete halt, passengers began to clap, whistle and cheer. Were they celebrating the failure of departing? No. They were celebrating the experience of our pilot, the lessons he learned in landing a plane full of passengers. Even in all the chaos, the fear, and the failure of us reaching our destination, I guess there was STILL something to celebrate.

Innovation Is A Hot Mess

 

conditions

Every September this working mom feels like a hot mess. Unfortunately, the start of the school year is always busy for our family. I have three very adorable, very active kids. I teach all day and I drive home to do the after school activity shuffle. Each day, my home gets messier and messier.

One day, I was home in our office thinking about innovation in my virtual classroom.  I have read George Couros‘ book, The Innovator’s Mindset, a few times. It’s phenomenal and I can not encourage teachers enough to get the book, read it, and share your thoughts. I have also signed up for his online course that mirrors the ideas in the book. My next few blog posts will reflect how I will be incorporating my innovation sessions (Creativation) into my virtual lessons. Yes, I  have a plan…I think!

For those of you who may not know, I am a cyber teacher. I teach learners online and throughout the year invite them to our family learning center.  I feel I innovate everyday as a cyber educator. I work with some amazing teachers, true innovators and educational pioneers; they are finding ways to enhance learning in a non-traditional school…everyday. No, there are no “how to teach the online learner” books out there, nothing to help us (Dave Burgess, you listening?). We focus on pedagogy and best practices just like every teacher out there, but we do it online. I feel we are at the fore-front of providing rich, thought provoking, innovative lessons to all learners regardless of where they live (inner city, rural, suburbia) in the state of Pennsylvania.

As I look around our messy home office, strewn with back to school calendars, sport forms and paper work, the questions begin to swirl around in my head…

What conditions are ideal for creative innovation?

How important is the working environment to innovation?

Are there ready made barriers in classrooms or cyber rooms that could discourage students and impede innovation?

All of my learners are home schooled and each of their home environments’ are different. Some live in more urban areas, in small apartments, others may live in homes or on rural farms. Will one environment provide a better platform for creative innovation than another?

When I think about my gifted and talented class and our innovation sessions, I don’t worry so much about the actual virtual room environment. We see each other via webcams, they talk and interact with one another.Our relationships are strong. We have breakout rooms that provide a small group setting for collaboration and individual work. I know many learners feel comfortable, eager to participate in our lessons and hungry to learn. However, I know some will have difficulty with risk taking. I know many will struggle with multiple solutions. “Is this right?” they will ask. Most gifted and talented learners struggle with growth mindset. Some learners will have a hard time with the amount of freedom to innovate. I am anticipating some sort of issue with generating ideas and being open to others ideas. I have not thought about their physical working environment and it’s possible impact in regards to innovativeness.

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This quote speaks to me and makes me wonder. Could the environment we’re in, lead to more innovative ideas?  I’ve never been a fan of having an extremely messy desk or house, but I’m starting to think I might need to leave it messy more often. It may be time to test this theory. What conditions will you have in place for your learners to innovate?  Will you be changing your physical working environment for learners during your innovation sessions? How? Why?