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  • by Blaine Helwig

Classroom Failures are Informative

I have never met a person in over half a century that has done poorly on a task and felt good about it – absolutely satisfied with the way it all turned out. There is no adult over the age of 18 years old that has not had a personal or work issue turn out differently than they would have liked. Of course, these experiences continue as we get older, which can be viewed as both unfortunate and fortunate, because a lack of success may suggest positive attributes about who we are and what we are striving to do. My brother once told me on a skiing trip, “If you are not falling on the slopes from time to time, you are not challenging yourself.”

There are a thousand inspirational books and movies that celebrate overcoming situations of failure. What more can I write on a human experience and subject that is as common as the sun shining each day. I can only think of one unique thing – Failure is Informative. Failure does not just inform on a task we do not do well on, but also on our reaction when we do not do well. Most importantly, it informs us on how we approach failure. I know I have done poorly more times than I care to recall in both my personal and work life. As I was thinking about this short writing piece, it occurred to me, what was the difference between setbacks in my personal life compared to my professional mistakes? Not much, really – except usually more people knew in my professional life causing a bit more embarrassment. For instance, when I was a Title 1 elementary principal, a lot of people knew I made a mistake, but not so when I was an elementary teacher since I was the only adult in the classroom. The students were too young and without perspective, and children are forgiving. However, there was much to learn from those mistakes, as previously mentioned, because Failure is Informative.

What are examples of common failures in a typical classroom?

Why did the kiddos not master the objective of the lesson? Why did so many students who are not behavior problems call out answers without raising their hands in compliance with classroom rules? Why had that child interacted inappropriately with the same student as yesterday? Of course, the number of similar questions may be lengthy with the number of human interactions in an enclosed, four walled rectangular prism all day.

These questions warrant contemplation, and every teacher desires to eliminate and avoid repetitive situations from occurring in their classroom. But, the fundamental question is the following on internal inquiry: “What did I, as the teacher, do or not do that allowed those negative things to happen?” Using introspective inquiry versus searching for an external cause yields informative reasons for a lack of success.

Let’s review our typical failures using internal inquiry and accountability

  • Why did the kiddos not master the objective of the lesson? Did I sequence the lesson correctly? Did I present a sufficient number of repetitive examples? Did the students who normally understand the lessons struggle?

  • Why did so many students who are not behavior problems call out answers without raising their hands in compliance with classroom rules? Did I accept a student's answer that was correct who did not raise their hand signaling that I was not reinforcing my own classroom rules?

  • Why had that child acted inappropriately with the same student as yesterday? Did I separate them in the class line and at lunch as I was supposed to do? Did I allow both to be together in a setting where I could not monitor them?

Failure is informative in our personal and professional interactions and much more if we are holding ourselves accountable in the inquiry process. This process is and will always be difficult. Humans are predisposed to externalize our failures and internalize our successes, but this reaction is counterproductive in gaining informative insight and growth as a classroom professional.


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