Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Becoming A 1:1 School Edition 11 - A Big Shift For Educators - Embracing Failure

As I read this morning's daily post from Seth Godin's blog,  the concerns of people who are anxious about the transition we will be undertaking as we move to becoming a 1:1 school are forefront in my mind.  One of the biggest fears I hear from some people is that they are concerned about losing control control due to the fact that they will not know how to best utilize all of the tools that they will have at their disposal.  They are afraid that their students may know more than they do in regards to using the new tools that they will be trying to implement.

via Tony Vincent's Education and Technology Quotes Slideshare

The fact of the matter is that, this is never going to change due to the fact that the list of tools is growing daily.  There is no one on earth who can claim expertise in all of the technological tools out there and this creates the obvious need for a shift in thinking from people who see themselves as experts in their classrooms to people who see themselves as guides and/or co-learners.  My friends in Van Meter, Iowa have described the shift as creating classrooms that are not teacher-centered, but are instead learner-centered. These are places where teachers consider themselves learners along with their students.  We need to spend more time thinking about what it really means to be a lifelong learner and what the role of educators looks like in this model.

Personally, I am excited about the opportunity and would prefer to fail often than just go about things the way that we have done for years.   Of course, the idea of failure has been one that has been avoided at all costs in schools for decades and it is one of the biggest reasons we are where we are in public education. In so many instances, we stay in our comfort zones because we are afraid that something might not work. In the meantime, we are preparing our students for a world in which things are changing faster than ever and where flexibility and innovation are at a premium. In short, we cannot adequately prepare our students if we do not adopt this mindset.

As Godin pointed out in today's post (see below), we need to embrace failure:
"As you gain resources, the act of being wrong goes from being fatal to annoying to a precious opportunity, something that you've earned.  You won't advance your cause or discover new truths if you're obsessed with being right all the time--and so the best way to compound your advantage and accomplish even more than you already have is to set out (with relish) to be as open to wrong as often as you can afford to be."
via Tony Vincent's Education and Technology Quotes Slideshare

As we loosen up our white-knuckled grip on security and relish the opportunities that failure can present, we also need to talk openly about our shortcomings and share them with others.  Godin asks an important question "When was the last time you set out to be promiscuous in your failures?" in his book Poke The Box.  In order to become a highly functioning learning environment this needs to be a daily occurrence.

If our intention is to remain relevant then we need to pull up the shades, open our doors and embrace the failure that comes with change.  We have some important choices to make and it comes down to a few questions that those of us who choose to be educators have to answer in regards to the the types of learning environments we want for our students.  These questions would be something like the ones that Godin outlines in his book Graceful, questions asked by founder Jeff Bezos to the graduating students at Princeton.
"Will inertia be your guide, or will you follow your passions? Will you follow dogma, or will you be original? Will you be a cynic or will you be a builder?" 
In closing, I have to mention the seven survival skills that Tony Wagner discusses in his book The Global Achievement Gap, skills that our students need whether they are going on to college or the workplace.
  1. critical thinking/problem solving
  2. collaboration/leading by influence
  3. agility and adaptability
  4. initiative and entrepreneurialism
  5. effective oral and written communication
  6. accessing and analyzing information
  7. curiosity and imagination
We cannot get where we need to go, if we as educators do not model these skills and we cannot model these skills if we are afraid of failing


  1. Thoughtful post, research showing you are right on track with leaving room to fail in order to grow:

  2. I'm just so grateful for the tremendous amount of support from the support team here at BHS. I couldn't learn all of this new tech effectively without the continuous aid from administration, colleagues, students and family. The fact that they are always willing to help and guide me is refreshing. I don't always catch on as readily as I'd like to. Some days, I feel as if I'm quite fluent and other days, I have to go back and learn it again. I've been using the various technological tools in my classroom and have felt comfortable having the students help me. I'm in a wonderful department with very, very savvy techy colleagues. They have shared some great Apps with me. The students, too, have helped me to see these great Apps come to fruition. I have been teaching for many years, and it always brings great encouragement to me when I see my students actively participating and enjoying what they're learning.

  3. You are providing inspiration for all of us with the work that you and your staff are doing at your school, Patrick! I must disagree with something in your post, however. I really don't see anything that you are doing as "failure". You are bound to make mistakes, we all will when we try something new, but the only failure that you will have is when you stop doing what you are doing. I don't anticipate that you will, so I cannot imagine that you will "fail". Make mistakes, yes. Grow, certainly. Fail, not a chance.

    Keep it up.

  4. Cale - We are on the same page on this one. The only way we fail is by not trying to make changes. It is much more exciting to try something new and then reflect on its level of success instead of just doing it the way we have always done it.

  5. My most powerful moment teaching was during a computer programming class where I was learning the content days before my students. I worked diligently, thought I could handle any question until the day came when I couldn't. I remember standing on the stage, feeling uncomfortable, heat creeping up the back of my neck and then I said, "I don't know... let's find out together." It was the most liberating moment, and it became empowering for my students. Not always did they rely on me, the "expert", but we learned together how to overcome problems and research the questions we had difficulty with.

    "hmmm, I'm not sure. Does anyone else know how to answer that / solve that?" became a tool in my teaching toolbox regardless of whether I knew the answer. I still did the Sage on the Stage thing when needed, but moved easily into Guide on the Side. Having the computers made it simple as everyone could work at their own paces, in small or large groups, and access information with and without my help, and have multiple ways of showing their learning. Extension activities were only limited by imagination!

    I can understand that it could be frightening, but if teachers new to a 1:1 are supported, know that it is alright to allow your students to become the teacher, or relinquish the power role and ask the nearest 14 year old to help them because they don't know then they should do just fine.

    No failure as long as you can work together with your community members to grow!

  6. Patrick, Your comments ring so true. Failure only exists,though, when we fail to try. A supportive staff and tech savy people really help lead us into the next chapter.
    Kathy Ross Lawrence Middle School, Lawrenceville, NJ

  7. Great post Patrick. I really enjoyed reading The Global Achievement Gap as well. Along the lines of what Cale and yourself said in the comments, failure should only be short term. Is failure frustrating? Can it knock us down a couple pegs? Sure. I think many will agree that the best changes for the better in our schools have come from even the smallest failures. Students are moving forward whether we like it or not. We're doing them a disservice if our schools stay stagnant and not incorporate multiple technologies/learning opportunities to help them be producers of content rather than just consumers of content.