The Vocabulary of Success

Back in 2015, I published my first post about FAIL (First Attempt In Learning). About a year later I published a post about “failing forward”. It’s been awhile since I’ve spoken about the topic of failure. Recently a dear friend, Nathan Stevens, responded to a tweet from another dear friend, Jerry Blumengarten, about my first post.

Here was the exchange:

Just this small exchange that no one else noticed got me to thinking about the words we use. I love that Nathan has begun using the word opportunities when his students’ projects don’t work the first time. It changes the way we, as educators, view the work our students do. In turn, it begins to change the way our students see their own work.

I truly believe that by changing our vocabulary, we will help our students see that every project is a work in progress. Scientists create hypothesis before they experiment. They expect they will have to change it as the experiment unfolds. They don’t consider the notion that by not proving exactly what they hypothesized they’ve failed, neither should our students.

When students come to realize that their work is really opportunities for learning, they will develop what some call grit. This just means that the students will be encouraged to dig in deeper when they don’t get the “right” answer. Thomas Hoerr stated that “Every child needs to encounter frustration and failure to learn to step back, reassess, and try again.” (Hoerr, Thomas R. “Got grit.” Educational Leadership 69.6 (2012): 84-85.)

I am encouraged by the conversations I’ve witnessed on Twitter over the last few years. I call on all educators to look at mistakes in the classroom for what they are, opportunities to learn. It’s more than just our students that need this. We need this as well. When we try something in the classroom (a new method, a new seating chart, a new procedure, etc.), it is important that we don’t let that little voice inside our heads call it a failure if it doesn’t work. It is another opportunity to learn and grow.

Let’s start a movement. Let’s change the vocabulary of success. Let’s be encouragers of learning opportunities.

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