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Peter DeWitt's

Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

What Is Failure?

By Peter DeWitt — March 17, 2012 2 min read
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What is failure? In the media we hear about failing teachers, failing students and failing schools. Students who get retained, say they failed a grade, as much as the educators around them try to call it something else. There are so many ways we fail. Some of those failures are socially acceptable and others are not.

If someone fails a test, they are encouraged to move on and try again. If they fail to get into the college of their choice they are persuaded to find another one that would be more fitting. When someone fails to make the basketball team or the lead part in a play they eventually brush themselves off and try again but for awhile they feel like a failure. They feel like no one around them had ever failed before and they are the only ones who met such a cruel fate. However, those are all socially acceptable ways to fail. We have all encountered those issues from time to time.

Other times failure is not as acceptable. When leaders or politicians make grave mistakes and lie to the public, they fail to gain or maintain public trust. When an adult’s actions put them and others in harm’s way they fail to understand the magnitude of their situations. Others blindly keep failing never to learn from their mistakes.

To many people, the opposite of retention is social promotion. Educators are as tired of social promotion as they are of retention. Social promotion is indeed just as harmful as retention. A child should never get to fifth or sixth grade without learning to read. If that happens, the adults (parents, educators, administrators) around those students have failed to help those children.

Sometimes people talk about failure as if it is a good thing. Other times people talk about failure as if kids should have to wear a badge on their arm to signify that they have failed. The truth is that not everyone succeeds. I would venture to guess that everyone fails from time to time; it’s just that not everyone wants to talk about their failures.

Failure comes in many forms. When a child fails, it is an opportunity for them to learn from their mistakes or how to make something better. When we treat a child like a failure after they make a mistake, then we have failed at our jobs as adults because we did not show them compassion. If a child is made to feel like a failure rather than educated on the benefits of failure, they may never be able to succeed in life.

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On March 22nd Peter will be presenting on the topic of struggling learners at the National Association of Elementary School Principals Conferencein Seattle.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.