In Defense of Failure

We don’t want perfectionists, we want risk-takers who will fail and learn from their mistakes.

I want our students to make mistakes and [gasp, shudder,] even fail. Making mistakes is a great way to learn. Learning is disorganized, perhaps messy, and not linear. And yet, mainstream education presents curriculum in a manner and sequence that presumes a linear path of learning, leading students to seek perfection.

Water Wheel from an LP

At The Sycamore School, we regularly present students with challenging problems or tasks and ask that they go outside of their comfort zone to try something new. For example, one student is making a water wheel out of two LPs, lots of carpenters glue and a pencil. One of our teachers often warns, “the first model will be rough, but the next time you do it, you’ll know what to avoid and the process will go much more smoothly.”

We teach students to value academic feedback.

By challenging students to learn outside of their comfort zones, we help them learn how to incorporate feedback. If a student expects something to be hard and messy and different (and imperfect,) they are open to feedback in an authentic way. As students gain confidence in receiving feedback, they welcome it even in their comfort zones.

When you write a first draft of an essay, it’s not the final draft. You get feedback, make revisions and then turn it in again…and again. Each draft is stronger, even if not perfect.

Our goal is to cultivate students who can rise to challenges and problem-solve; who aren’t afraid to make mistakes and when they do, they learn from them and move forward instead of getting stuck in an exhausting and unproductive loop seeking perfection.

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