Opinion Blog

Ask a Psychologist

Helping Students Thrive Now

Angela Duckworth and other behavioral-science experts offer advice to teachers based on scientific research. Read more from this blog.

Student Well-Being Opinion

Are Your Students Frustrated? That’s Not Always Bad

How to help them learn from intelligent failures
By Amy Edmondson — September 27, 2023 1 min read
Should I stop students from doing projects that are likely to fail?
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Should I stop students from doing projects that are too ambitious and likely to fail?

Teachers have a good nose for when students might get frustrated, but not all frustration is bad. Here’s something I wrote about the topic for Character Lab as a Tip of the Week:

Almost a decade ago, when my son Jack was 16, he decided to take a summer job selling solar panels door-to-door. Instinctively, I wanted to talk him out of it. Jack was an introvert, and he’d be in for a lot of rejection. Better to protect him from responses that could be indifferent, rude, or perhaps even downright hostile, I thought—and possibly from a miserable few months.

It’s natural to want to shield kids from failure. Why should they live through the painful mistakes you can see from a mile away?

But failure is essential to learning—in particular, a kind researchers call intelligent failure. Intelligent failures happen when you try something new in pursuit of a worthy goal (in a situation that presents no serious safety risk). Whether it’s picking up a new sport, taking a challenging math class, or making new friends, kids will encounter setbacks and disappointments. Without experiencing a healthy dose of intelligent failure, children might develop a habit of avoiding risk.

Ask yourself: Is this child about to do something that’s physically safe and without reputational risk? If the answer is “yes,” then let them do it. Your job is to make the classroom environment a psychologically safe place to learn—which sometimes includes failure as well as conversations about setbacks and successes alike.

As for my son Jack, I bit my tongue against all my parental instincts. He took the job and got turned away at a lot of doors. But he made a few sales and was excited to be transforming some of New England’s roofs—and the experience sparked an interest in renewable energy to this day.

Don’t shield kids from the frustration of failing.

Do encourage young people to try things that feel uncomfortable. Talk about times you failed in the pursuit of a new goal or hobby. And when they encounter setbacks, acknowledge how hard it is without trying to solve their problems for them. When they do get small wins on their own, that makes success all the sweeter.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Ask a Psychologist: Helping Students Thrive Now 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.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
IT Infrastructure & Management Webinar
From Chaos to Clarity: How to Master EdTech Management and Future-Proof Your Evaluation Processes
The road to a thriving educational technology environment is paved with planning, collaboration, and effective evaluation.
Content provided by Instructure
Special Education Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table - Special Education: Proven Interventions for Academic Success
Special education should be a launchpad, not a label. Join the conversation on how schools can better support ALL students.
Special Education K-12 Essentials Forum Innovative Approaches to Special Education
Join this free virtual event to explore innovations in the evolving landscape of special education.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being By Some Measures, Students' Well-Being Has Been Stable for a Decade, Study Shows
A Stanford report examined high school students’ well-being, sense of belonging, and engagement over more than a decade.
5 min read
Tired schoolboy fell asleep on a class at elementary school.
iStock/Getty
Student Well-Being Opinion What Should Students Do Over the Summer?
Educators share tips for keeping kids off their screens and mentally engaged over the long break.
3 min read
Young girl reads a book with cat in the garden. Summer holidays illustration.
iStock/Getty
Student Well-Being Opinion What's Behind the Explosion in Student Absenteeism?
Kids aren’t returning to school after COVID. What are the implications for policy and practice?
8 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Student Well-Being To Ban or Not to Ban? Educators, Parents, and Students Weigh In on Cellphones
School community members share opinions on cellphones in schools, describing how the problem should be handled—if at all.
5 min read
Hands holding smartphone. The screen is lighting everything up.
Education Week + iStock + E+/Getty Images