Zen and the art of failure

The word failure brings with it a collection of negative emotions and feelings. We are taught from a very young age that failure is bad. Failure is a point of no return. Failure is an end. Webster’s dictionary actually defines failure simply as “lack of success”. I would argue, with the exception of skydiving, that failure is really the catalyst to a new beginning or at the very least, a pirouette to a new direction.
As an educator, I’ve had failure on my mind a lot lately. I see students both in the classroom and in the media center hitting roadblocks in learning that they perceive as failures.  It’s disheartening to see a student shut down from what they perceive as an end.
I recently watched a TEDed video entitled What I learned from 100 days of rejection by Jia Jiang https://www.ted.com/talks/jia_jiang_what_i_learned_from_100_days_of_rejection
And it was easy to interchange the idea of rejection with failure. The premise of the video is that by purposefully seeking out opportunities for rejection you can desensitize yourself to the negative associated with the experience and open yourself up to the learning opportunities that come from that rejection (read:failure).
It’s been on my mind.
Whether by happenstance or divine intervention, I found myself with the opportunity to provide an “escape the media center” experience for our 4th - 6th grade students. If you are not familiar with the Escape concept, basically you have a limited amount to time to work collaboratively to solve clues and ultimately “escape”.  We have escape rooms here locally http://www.huntsvilleescaperooms.com/ and the materials that I used can be found http://www.theescapeclassroom.com/workshops.  What I discovered through this experience is that this time of collaborative, experiential learning basically requires students to “fail” at least once (generally a lot more)  in order to reset and find the right path. Much to my delight, I did not have a single student throw up their hands and say “I can’t do it”. Instead I saw problem solving, collaboration, excitement, research, teamwork all of the things you would want to see in a student preparing for life outside of the classroom. The failures were not an end but instead  were a  necessary component to find the ultimate solution.
It was a chill bump moment.
And then I thought, why don’t we teach everything this way? Why can’t mastery be achieved through experiences that encourage the redefinition of failure. Failure is not the end. Failure is what sets us on a new path. Maybe there is an art to failure. And with any art it has to be practiced to achieve greatness. I’m going to continue to seek out those opportunities for my students and for myself.  



  1. "Why can’t mastery be achieved through experiences that encourage the redefinition of failure." BAM!


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