“You are going to fail-and likely more than once.  If you don’t fail, then you are probably playing it too safe.  Failing hurts like hell- especially failing in public.   But you will learn some of your most valuable lessons from failure- far more than from your successes.  As you reflect on the causes of your failure(s), you will come to better understand yourself- your strengths and weaknesses- and you will adjust your aspirations accordingly.  You will also become clearer about what it is that you are trying to do and what is required to make it work.  Think of failure as iteration, as learning.”

-Thomas Wagner

except from “Creating Innovators”

As a life-long learner, I am proud to say that I’ve failed in many of my favored endeavors -as a teacher, as a son, as a musician, as a fighter, as a students, as a pet owner, as a gardener . . .  and the list goes on.  What does failure really mean to me?  In all of the endeavor that I have listed, I’ve made attempts . . . THAT IS . . . many attempts in order to succeed in each of my endeavors.  In schools and in society “failure” has so many negativities because of it’s painful outcomes.  If you fail in school, you don’t get into the college or school you want.  If you fail to do your job in a company, your company will lose money and as a result, a manager will replace you with someone who might be qualified to do your job better.  The feeling of failing is such valuable feedback because it forces you to reflect on what you need to work on.  For some, being in a reflective mindset after a “failed” event might not come right away because the pain of failure is too hard to bear.  People shut down because of the feeling of failure.  How do we change this mindset so that “failure” becomes an asset?

In my perspective, if you haven’t TRIED to push your own boundaries in your endeavors, you have FAILED.  If you accept your own status quo, you have FAILED.

As a boxer, I don’t fear getting punch in the face as much as I use to. But now I fear not performing to my own potential – the potential to push my own abilities to whole new level.  With experience, practice, observation of other fighters, and feedback from my coach, I am able box people that I don’t usually box with who might push my own ability a bit more with less fear of failure.  Experience and time will get me to where I want to be in this hobby.  Even if I don’t perform well, I am able to stand in a reflective mindset, strategize, and practice on particular skills for the next bout or sparring session.

As a musician, I am proud to say I have to tried out for American Idol 3 times.  Even though I never made it on to TV, I’ve made the attempts to push my ability to perform in public.  I’ve written, produced, and created the scores of 3 musicals in college and in our Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Assemblies at a high school I taught at.  These events push my musical ability to another level.  What’s worst . . . producing and performing something you love that the public might not like or not producing and performing because of the fear that the public will critique your ideas.  I say the second option.  I’ve created my own opportunities to shine and to have others students shine as well.

As a student in middle school, I’ve made attempts to try and understand Algebra, but received a D in that class at the end of both semesters.  This made me want to do better in Algebra in high school.  I’ve gotten my A in Algebra and followed the honor and AP track in the math and science all because of my “failure” to perform well in middle school.  “Failure” placed me in reflective mindset to do better in future courses. I now know what it take to succeed in future math courses.

As a pet owner, I had a beautiful and loving dog who passed away in 2012 from lymphoma, a blood cancer.  I failed to care for the health of my pet due my lack of knowing what makes a dog healthy.  I’ve made attempts to save his life from chemotherapy, to holistic care, to daily walks, to giving filtered water, to switch his kibbles to whole foods.  I’ve pushed my perspective of pet health through attempts, failures, reflection, and research.  Even though he passed away 5 months after his diagnosis, I have his partner in crime whom I will guarantee is in the best health at 9 years old. He will not die of cancer EVER, but he will pass away of old age @ 16 years or older because I now know what it takes for a dog to be in great health.

As a teacher, it took me a good 5 years from the start of my teaching career to understand the concept of classroom management.  My own paradigm of classroom management stemmed from the concept of discipline.  But even with that, sometimes I didn’t apply the concept of discipline consistently on a daily basis as a result someday I’ve had wild classes (It hurts to say that!!!) But classroom management is more than that.  With time, research, observing, trying things that I’m not comfortable with, and with coaching, I now understand that classroom management has many factors – from teaching our students how to be nice to each other and myself, having high behavioral and academic expectations of your students, engagement, immersion into the lesson, and having a positive rapport with your students.  I’m happy to be at a place where I now understand the true meaning of classroom management and I am able to apply that to my practice on a daily basis.

As I am wrapping up this post, I have a couple questions about teaching and modeling the concept and purpose of “failure” in schools:

  1. How do we push our students toward their defined potential?
  2. What messages do educator give to students about failure?  What kind of messages can we give to our students so that failure becomes a learning moment?
  3. For those kid who have attempted and failed, how do we as educators celebrate their attempts and coach them to be resilient enough to get back on their feet to continue their work toward success?
  4. How do we transform our student’s negative mindset of “failure” so that the results of “failure” becomes a reflective practice?

I want to leave this post with a quote from a saying that stuck with me my whole life.  I still have the key chain to prove it.

“It is OK to make mistakes . . . as long as your learn from it.”

-Ben Franklin Intermediate School All Star Interdisciplinary Team

aka . . . Ms. Schandler, Ms. Oliver, Ms. Ferenz, and Ms. Stewart

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