"What is the point of being alive if you don't at least try to do something remarkable?"
Let me start off by squelching all of the thoughts that this is going to be a post every bit as dramatic as the title suggests. No, this post has nothing to do with our ability to deal with four letter words. Nor does it have anything to do with profanity. However, it has everything to do with a challenge that children and young adults struggle with throughout their formative years in education. The challenge is one which all of the stakeholders in the educational community must face, with eyes wide open and arms extended, ready to embrace. Anything less will limit and inhibit the true growth potential of our children.
While it is a challenge that both educators and parents struggle with at times , it is one where both must persevere in the end. Both must figure out a consistent way to develop and maintain a positive culture of learning that encourages students to take risks, despite the possible consequence of failure. In other words students need to feel that it is "okay"to fail. They need to understand that if they do fail, they will still have the support, guidance and encouragement from the people who they trust and need it from the most. They need to believe that if they do fail, their support system will not look at their failure through an "end game" lens but rather they will change lenses, take another look and encourage a fresh start. Most importantly if they do fail they need to believe that it is important and necessary to try again and again.
Ultimately if our children do not fear reprisals for their failure they will be more likely to set higher standards of learning for themselves. They will reach for them and they will push themselves far beyond their comfort zones. Thus accomplishing what they believed previously impossible.
As role models that have experienced our own failures, we must be willing to share these experiences with our children. We must point out our own failures and the failures made by humankind in the past. We must also point out present day failures, in order to demonstrate our own resiliency. Empathy is a key component of the growth process. Children need to understand that people prior to them have failed, people are failing now and people will fail in the future but the world still continues to make remarkable progress.
Children must also have a concept of what constitutes failure. This is where the waters get muddied. Here we have many challenging questions without easy answers. Is failure the inability to accomplish a goal? Is it performing below expectations that are set for us? Is it mediocrity? Is failure a lack of understanding ,or the inability to demonstrate understanding? Is failure what occurs when promises are broken? More than likely you can argue that it is all those things. You can argue that we all interpret failure differently based on our own individual reactions and the reactions of those that we care about. If we want our children to grow up and become confident adults we will help them to develop a healthy perspective when viewing the concept of failure. We will also help them to understand the lessons taught by failure. In the end, they may turn a negative event into something that could have positive implications in the future.
Coping with failure is not a new challenge. When the first humans began to walk the earth they encountered challenges, they succeeded and they failed. In fact they probably failed more than they succeeded. Yet they survived and eventually because they did, the human race eventually prospered. Tens of thousands of years later despite the failures of our ancestors we still prosper today.
Our children are capable of accomplishing remarkable things but they must be able to cope with failure, if they are to become confident and productive adult citizens. The survival of the world that they will eventually inherit depends on it. I have every confidence that they will. However, they will only do so if we as their role models encourage them to take risks that fly in the face of failure and are accepting of those failures, once they occur.