I’m glad Kirsten asked these questions: Where do you think failure fits in an educational context? Do you use it with your students?  Those are great questions, Kirsten.

Even today, failure is fitting into my educational context. Watching Susan’s vlog post inspired me to try to make my vlog post, even though this week has not been conducive to working on my own stuff.

In addition, since my last vlog post, I’ve gotten a new computer without iMovie, which has been my video-editor of choice for seven years now. This evening, already a day late, I considered using the video camera on my computer, which I could have made a quick video (like I did once on PhotoBooth), but I’m in my pjs. Also, I had some images I wanted to add. I tried WeVideo, but I got frustrated because I don’t have enough time to figure out the new program right now.  So, hmmm…I’m going to call it a fail and write a blog post.

I actually don’t like the word failure for what I just did. I can fail to post a vlog this week, but I’m not a failure. Thanks, Susan, for pointing out the difference.

Perhaps I just found another way to get my post about failure out, even if it is late and in print.

Erin liked the word resilience – “the human capacity to face/overcome and ultimately be strengthened by life’s adversity and challenges.”  To me, I’ve been thinking about that word all week. I like the word, but I haven’t really used it with my students. After thinking about it, I decided that’s a word I would use for overcoming outside forces – life’s adversity and challenges coming at a person.

However, when I think of many of the kinds of failure at school that we can help students overcome, I think of the internal forces within us. When we try something and it doesn’t work, like using a new video editor, we can quit or we can keep going.  If we can’t keep trying, if we can’t continue on, or find another way to solve a problem, then we don’t have perseverance, persistence or grit. Those are the words I have been using this year to describe the kind of learning that must happen when the going gets tough. Like in the video Brendan shared with us of Audri’s Rube Goldberg machine. That little guy persevered, persisted, and had GRIT. I think of those words to describe  Audri. Even though he used the word failure to describe when his machine didn’t work, and there were plenty of times when it didn’t, he and his machine were anything but failures.

I just checked out this book at the library: How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough.

According to Amazon, the author shows that “the qualities that matter most have less to do with IQ and more to do with character: skills like grit, curiosity, conscientiousness, and optimism.” I can’t say much about it yet, but I’ll be reading it this week.

Sheri used this image from me.

I don’t know who originally said this, but I like it. A fail is just a first attempt at learning. That’s all. However, I think if it’s the first and only attempt, then perhaps that’s a real fail.  For instance, if I never edit another video because I no longer have iMovie, that would be a fail.

Then, as Sheri does so beautifully, she makes FAILURE into a beautiful thing with this extension of the thought.

Image by Sheri Edwards (teach.eagle on Flickr)


Connotations of Fail and Failure

Okay, Sheri did a great job with that idea of Failure, and I like it. In fact, I will be using it when the need comes up to remind a student what failure means. However,  after thinking a lot this week about the topic, I realize I don’t really want to use the words fail or failure in an educational context. They have too much baggage with them.

For instance, it reminds me of all the young crazy kids who are so proud to share their #epicfail pictures with the whole world. Think of Ben’s video for more!

It also reminded me of my least favorite thing about teaching — grading. Karen did a beautiful vlog post about how much failure in school can affect someone.

I picked up this book at the library the other day:  A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck.


I thought I might read it again because I wanted to remember why it had a powerful effect on me when I was young. I opened it first thing to this page, and in light of our discussion on failure, I just had to check it out.

F is for Failure

I agree with what so many of you said this week. What we learn through failure is of utmost importance. Resilient people are successful. I’m not sure failure will ever have any positive connotation attached to it. However, the other words we’ve been discussing in our common glossary this week do — resiliency, persistence, perseverance, grit.

Now, will I have resiliency after my failure to get a vlog post done this week? Will I persist, persevere, and have grit to learn how to vlog again? You’ll have to tune in next time to see.

17 thoughts on “Failure

  1. As always I love what you have to say, whether it is a vlog, blog or a chat. You definitely have grit. You worked through your frustration to share and really that is what Open Spokes is about sharing and learning. Your vlog was a pleasure to reflect on yet again. Thanks

    1. Thank you so much, Susan! You are an inspiration to me too. Literally I was close to skipping this week until I watched your video. Thanks for you warm posts and comments.


  2. I love what you have to say in this post. What stood out to me was, “A fail is just a first attempt at learning.” It is important for people and students to realize that just because they fail at something, does not mean that they are a failure. We learn from our mistakes and our fails. I cannot wait to read more of your posts!

    1. Hi Lauren,
      Thanks for stopping by. Yes, we certainly can learning from our mistakes and shortcomings. I’m going to be motivated to learn a new way to make a video now that I’ve advertised my fail too!


  3. Hi Denise!

    Summer always gets me thinking about my own young children and how what my husband and I do at home will effect them in their own education. I think that by the time we get them in middle school our students have very strong feelings about what “failure” means based on what it means in their home.

    As I write this my 7 year old is trying to teach my 3 year old to play chess! I am trying to stay out of it, but I do have to jump in every once in a while to say: She’s only 3. She’s going to make mistakes. Just go back and play that turn over.

    I hope am am raising gritty, resilient kids!

    Thanks for a great post.


    1. Chess!? How fun is that? I love it that your kids will grow up knowing chess is accessible to them, even at such young ages. Resilient? You bet they are!

  4. Great post Denise! It is always interesting to see how each of us view failure and it’s reiterations. I like the idea of grit. Interesting how school is depicted in literature isn’t it? How often do writers portray the act of being in school or the institution as a positive place- many writers seem to see it as a place of “failure.” So perhaps the best that we can do as educators is remove failure from our vocabulary, and perhaps, in time, learning in an institutional setting will not be seen as so negative.

  5. As always, your words give us so much to think about, as we review ways we may have failed, but now have a new strategy from you. I don’t want to eliminate the word failure, though. I want to give this word more depth and meaning, because it used. Sometimes it is used by those we care about, and so we need to deal with it, to put it in its place as part of life and know we can move on. “One does what one can,” said the little sparrow trying to hold up the sky. We aren’t perfect; we will make mistakes. Say it, share it with a friend or mentor, learn, and move on as time does, and focus on what we do well.

  6. I don’t think we fail because our missteps construct the lessons that help us learn. It was formally announced today that my school is closing. Did the school fail? Did I as a teacher fail? No, neither of us failed circumstances beyond our control caused the event to happen. If we continually focus on the word “failure” we will never see the success. Learning is not something that happens instantaneously it is something that is slowly built overtime. When my husband entered Aviation Officers Candidate School he was one of eighty-nine selected. Two years later he was one of three that received his wings. The other eighty-six weren’t failures their skill sets simply didn’t match the program. Failure is a word I would like stricken from the dictionary. It’s connotation is negative and is hurtful. Let’s just say “we’re on the path and sometimes a small stone gets in the way.”

    1. JoAnn,
      I’m sorry to hear about your school closing. You are right, not a fail for your school (and certainly not for you, who have been a presence of joy and hope to the school & students this year).

      As our high school just finished its last year, I often thought that everyone had their own story they were figuring out. I like your metaphor, though — everyone has to find their own journey through, some with a more stony path than others. There is good news of resiliency, hope, joy, and growth as we persevere awaiting all of us on the journey.

      Thank you for sharing. And, by the way, you must be so proud of Carl! The others didn’t fail, but he did rise to the top. 🙂


  7. Karen, Sheri, and JoAnn,
    Thanks for the comments. It’s good to consider the use of all our words.

    Have any of you read Choice Words: How Our Language Effects Children’s Learning by Peter H. Johnson? If yes, what did you think? Your comments reminded me of it. I have it, but I think I need to re-read it.


    1. Something I’ll put aside for summer reading Denise. Reading Don’t Make Me Think- about universal design right now.

  8. My name is Sherri Hudson and I am an EDM310 student at the University of South Alabama. My blog should mention more about failure being a positive thing. I actually like to write novels in my spare time. When I get rejections from literary agents or criticism, I think of it as failure that will make a change. Failure is very important and hard to accept, but it makes us all better individuals if we handle it maturely and learn.

    1. Sherri,
      Great example of writing and being rejected by publishers for a time. I love those stories about famous authors who did the same. Perseverance and grit will bring you through, like Dr. Seuss, whose To Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street was rejected dozens of times.

      Thanks for reading and visiting. Enjoy you EDM310 class with Dr. Strange. It’s where you’ll find cutting-edge education. I’ll check out your blog!


  9. My name is Caitlin and I am in EDM310 at the university of South Alabama! I will be coming to your blog and commenting as an assignment! I LOVE this post! I really like the acronym pictures describing failure. I especially like the one that says First Attempt In Learning!! I cannot wait to come back and read some more on your blog!!

    1. Caitlin,
      Thanks for coming by. I will look forward to reading your blog too! I always enjoy the work Dr. Strange’s students do. I think this class is so important for you and your future as a connected educator.


  10. Hello,
    My name is Grace Hofer and I am a student in EDM 310 at the University of South Alabama. I really enjoyed reading your post! I loved how you pointed out the difference in failing and being a failure. I also agree with you on not wanting to use terms like fail and failure in an educational context. I think that the person who believes the most in a students academic abilities in school should be the teacher. By using terms like fail and failure can hinder the capabilities of a student.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us!

Comments are closed.