R – I embarrass easily. It is not one of my finer traits, and even less one I’m particularly proud of. What that has meant in practice – throughout my entire life – is to resist the opportunity to take chances. I’ll dig in like a bulldog if there’s something I deeply believe in and want to fight for, but if there isn’t firm footing ahead, my tendency is to be pretty tepid. I have to laughingly add that my ingenious solution, at least in my career, has been to continuously put myself out there in precarious positions with the understanding that I’ll either a) succeed in a marvelous way against all odds or b) I’ll fail – – – and if I fail enough times, I’ll get more used to it and I won’t be so embarrassed by it anymore!!
I’m pretty sure it was advanced logic such as this that caused highly educated people for centuries to believe that the world was flat.
But I’m going somewhere with this. I was talking with a colleague of mine mid-week who told me that her Principal’s primary message to his faculty this year was to “fail”. They are implementing standards based grading for the first time with a brand new online program to boot, and the Principal’s message to them is to please fail. Huh? Well, it’s actually pretty cool what he’s suggesting: go after the good stuff, knowing that your path won’t be a straight or even a consistently successful one, and then SHARE your failures so we can all learn from them, saving everyone one else from the same fates. In other words, we’re in this foxhole together. No war was ever waged without both sides loosing some battles between them. The victors however are the ones who refine their strategies and grow from their setbacks, the losers are the ones who ignore them, dismiss them or fail to learn from them. My friend and I commented further that perhaps that is the debilitating kernel of truth for us as educators in Maine as we are faced with new and challenging tasks in front of us: fear of failure. “I don’t get this – how can I move forward?”, “What if it doesn’t work?”, “How do I know if I’m doing this right or not?”, have become common threads among educators of all subject areas the last year or so, and particularly this Fall.
You know what? Failure will get you there… as long as you are analytical about what happened, why it happened, and how you can potentially refine your strategies. And then you must also share your story with others, because that’s how we all grow.
Oscar Wilde said that, “No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did, he would cease to be an artist.” (btw, I defy you to name an artist who never failed) Be an artist. Look at what you are being asked to do, and then ask yourself what it could look like down the road if implemented successfully. And then start walking there, knowing there will be failure along the way. That IS how you get there. Watch the Princess Bride and ask yourself if Westley was having a grand old time while he was walking through the Fire Swamp (helpful storyline hint: he wasn’t). There was a LOT of failure along the way. It didn’t stop him and it can’t stop us.
And either way, I took a chance by wrapping this blog post up with a Princess Bride analogy. I think I just made my own day. I think I may also need more coffee.
Good luck on the start of your new school year!