It is our goal in innovations class to be learning through doing, well, through failing to be more specific.
In order to celebrate failures, we completed our own failure résumés, an idea from Tina Seelig’s What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20. Here is how Tina explains it on her website.
I require my students to write a failure résumé. That is, to craft a résumé that summarizes all their biggest screw ups — personal, professional, and academic. For every failure, each student must describe what he or she learned from that experience. Just imagine the looks of surprise this assignment inspires in students who are so used to showcasing their successes.
So I did the noble thing and shared a few of my failures to the class:
In junior English my first year teaching high school, we tried genius hour. I thought of it as “vague Friday projects,” but that name didn’t seem to have much staying power. Unfortunately neither did the system. I did see some passion, and one group did something pretty awesome, but there was a lot of wasted time and many voicemails to the CEO of Monsanto about school lunches.
Lesson – students need time to explore their passions. High school students need more time than just one day per week in order to create something that lives up to their expectations.
I was convinced as a high school senior that there was no way I could possibly be happy staying anywhere near home. I also have procrastination issues, leading to a late admission into the University of Wisconsin. I was not able to get a place in the dorms, so I ended up in a private residence hall, a hotel-like building where everyone had their own friends, or at least that’s what I decided. I got homesick and transferred, but that campus, the city, and the college atmosphere is something I wish I would have been a part of longer.
Lesson – get out and do something. Meet people. It is ok to put yourself out there. People won’t think you’re a loser.
There are more, of course (not getting a job I applied for, underestimating an opponent as a basketball coach, not walking a girl home when I clearly should have), but you get the idea.
My students enjoyed my examples, but when it came time to write their own, I found lots of blank looks and weak statements. That’s when Grace spoke up:
But all of your failures happened while you were in college or later even. How are we supposed to have any failures when we’re still in high school.
Isn’t that the truth?
I paused for a second. Thought about what gave me the right to think they should do more than me. Then realized that if I don’t hope for more from my students, ask for more of my students, that I can’t expect them to go beyond what I did and learned. I had a high school career full of successes and absent of major failures. It’s no wonder why I took six and a half years to finish college. I’m not a doctor, by the way.
So I replied, “That’s exactly why we’re here. If we wait to fail until college or when you’re 25, or even later, it’s too late. Mistakes cost you even more when you’re older. If you choose a major and end up hating it, you don’t get a refund. We learn from our failures, and giving you the opportunity to fail in this class is the greatest gift I can give you. You won’t be punished for it; you’ll be rewarded with some of the best learning opportunities you can have before you graduate from high school. I want you to have goals that you don’t know for sure that you can reach, something that may seem out of reach, something that you care enough about that it doesn’t matter what happens because you know that you just have to try and see what happens. That’s why you’re in this class.”
That may not have been the exact quote, but in the film version of our class that is how it went.
Fail. Learn. Grow.
And as teachers, share your failures, show that it is ok to take risks, reflect on your failures, reward your students for doing the same.