Sunday, April 5, 2015

Swing and a Miss (Embracing Failure and Striving for Better)

During a recent #gfedchat session, the group was recapping the Google Summit in Grand Forks.  When asked about what they learned or a take away, much of the conversation focused on embracing failure.


After pondering the topic of failure for the past week or so, I thought about failure in terms of baseball batting averages. Batting average is defined by the number of hits divided by the number of at bats. Now I don't pretend to be extremely knowledgeable about baseball, but the opening day of the baseball season has allowed me an opportunity to make some connections of "failure" between an educational environment and batting averages.  

Since spring training opened, players have logged serious hours and days practicing and playing spring training games to perfect all aspects of their game, but let’s just look at the batting aspect of the game. Think about this scenario; it's opening day and the first player in the batting order steps up to the plate.  Here's the wind-up and the pitch, the batter swings and misses, the umpire calls out "strike one." So, the batter is a failure because he didn't achieve his objective of making contact with the ball and getting a hit, right?  No, not a failure at all, because we all know he has 2 more strikes (failures) before he is out (yet another potetial failure). But not so fast, the batter will get another 3-4 at bats in a particular game to attempt to get a hit and not fail.  Then, when the batter eventually gets a hit or hits a home run, all is forgotten because he has not "failed." Think about it, a season batting average of .300 or more in the major leagues is considered to be excellent. Ty Cobb's career batting average of .366 is the record. His success rate over the course of his career was .366 while his failure rate was .634.  I'm not sure if anyone considers MLB Baseball Hall of Fame player Ty Cobb a failure because his success rate was below 50%.  

So why do we do that to students?  Fifty percent on a worksheet, paper, quiz, test, project most likely goes down as "F" in the teacher's grade book. Now don't misinterpret my point here. I am not advocating for lowering standards for students and accepting a low grade or effort, but rather, shouldn't we view a "low or failing" grade as a starting point or a first attempt in learning?

Keep in mind, that baseball player who swung and missed on the first pitch isn't done for his at bat, game, season, or career. He will be afforded numerous opportunities to strive for success, while having some failures along the way, and will continue to learn how to improve after each one.

Shouldn't students be afforded the same opportunities to redo papers and projects and retake tests? Shouldn't learning over the course of a school year be the goal of education rather than a grade in the gradebook reflecting a "snapshot in time?" Consider the following slide from Rick Wormelli:
What messages are you sending to your students? What kind of classroom cluture have you established in regards to taking risks and learning from failure? The classroom culture you establish will differentiate between students failing and being a failure. 
How are you, as a teacher, modeling taking risks, learning from failure, and striving to be better? How does your school/district administrator model and openly encourage students and teachers to take risks and learn from failure in a never-ending quest to be our very best? Afteralll, "Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes." John Dewey

The term "fail" and "failure" often have such negative conotations, so what do you do in your classroom to model taking risks, embrace failure as a starting point, and strive for excellence? I would love to hear some stories from your classroom or school.