The attempts to water ski for the first time continued with similar results each time; a fall. Those who have tried to water ski for the first time understand the process of numerous failed attempts followed eventually (hopefully) by a successful or even partially successful run. It is not natural to get pulled out of the water by a rope attached to a boat with your feet attached to flat planks.
The teacher/coach in me appreciates an opportunity to assist when possible. I’ve assisted many of my nieces and nephews to water ski through many failed attempts and successful outcomes. Last summer, my nephew Cedar was going through the same process of failed attempts. Throughout the attempts, I appreciated most his positive self-talk and willingness to try and try again. After many unsuccessful attempts, his disappointment was evident but wouldn’t define his resolve. Comments such as “I think I’ll get it this time” and “I was so close that time” lead to more opportunities to try again.
In an article titled “When Success Leads to Failure - The pressure to achieve academically is a crime against learning,” Jessica Lahey highlights the ways in which parents and educators, often unknowingly, teach children to fear failure.
“She knows that if she tries something challenging or new, and fails, that failure will be hard evidence that she’s not as smart as everyone keeps telling her she is. Better to be safe. Is that what we want? Kids who get straight As but hate learning? Kids who achieve academically, but are too afraid to take leaps into the unknown?” - Jessica Lahey
While knowing the frustration of not reaching a successful outcome, it is OK for our children to not “get something” on the first, fifth or even the twentieth try. After Cedar’s many attempts to water ski, he successfully water skied. Check it out:
Our goal as educators and parents is to remind ourselves that it’s OK for our children to not get, achieve, win, or complete something on the first try. Consider the following:
- If we allow students opportunities to explore their passions, they will provide an uncommon effort. Voice, choice, student agency, and genius hour/time are all opportunities for children to explore their passions.
- Allow students to be actively engaged in their learning. Teachers and parents should do more coaching and guiding and less telling and talking.
- Children have a natural curiosity and love of learning. Educators should keep this alive throughout their K-12 education. After all, “If students leave school less curious than when they started, we have failed them.” (George Couros) More needs to be done to ensure learning is a joyful experience.
- Children should not fear failure. Failure is only a First Attempt In Learning. Children need to be reassured from parents and educators that it’s OK to fail as long as they maintain a positive attitude and growth mindset.
- Embrace failure as part of the learning process. Prioritizing the learning process over merely the finished product will allow students to maintain a “work in progress” approach to improved iterations.
“...together we can help our kids rediscover their intellectual bravery, their enthusiasm for learning, and the resilience they need in order to grow into independent, competent adults. With a little luck, they will look back on their childhood and thank us; not just for our unwavering love, but for our willingness to put their long-term developmental and emotional needs before their short-term happiness. For our willingness to let their lives be just a little bit harder today so they will know how to face hardship tomorrow.” - Jessica Lahey
For Cedar, it was not just about a successful lap around the lake water skiing, but embracing opportunities with the right mindset that will last a lifetime. I am looking forward to watching Cedar grow up as curious learner with his willingness to try new and challenging things, and continue to strive towards success even when faced with adversity and unsuccessful outcomes.