George Lucas Educational Foundation

How to Recover from Failure

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Failure is the new success. It’s becoming one of the buzzwords that is often overused in education and other industries like the tech and entrepreneurship space. Many educators are working hard to help students see that it’s okay to fail and most importantly, that no one is perfect. I do think that there is a general narrative of accepting failure and learning from our mistakes, but we also need to talk about how to cope and recover from failure.

How do we as educators, as parents and as students begin to see that failure is an acceptable form of learning? I have accepted the fact that we will fail over and over again, but the only way to learn and grow from our failure is to also learn how to recover from it successfully, in a healthy way.

Reflect on Failure

Have students reflect on their own personal failures, whether that may be something recent, or their general concept on their own skills and abilities. Ask them to reflect in their own way, that might include writing it down, blogging, or even recording a podcast about it. For many putting their thoughts into words,

Set a Limit

Make sure to let students know to set a limit on “sitting” with their failures. This means that they can dwell on it, but only for a limited time. This helps to accept all the emotions and feelings that come after failing: disappointment, sadness, anger, giving up. However, it also lets students, and even adults know that they will need to move on from those emotions once the time is up. Often, we spend a lot of time dwelling and falling into that space of negative emotions when failing, we need to set a limit for that space. So it’s okay to feel these emotions, but not forever, we must move on after that time frame.

Do Something Else 

By moving on, mentally, we still might not be ready. Students will probably still be feeling all the above emotions, as they are still technically in the recovery space. However, encourage them to move on and “do something else”. Again, they need to be reminded that it’s okay to still feel those emotions, but it is one’s hope that when they are moving on with another activity, that they began the process of reflecting with a new mindset. Doing anything else other than dwelling on one’s failure can help students to have a clearer vision of their experience with failure and recovery. It will also help them to put things in perspective, move on and grow from their failure.

Would love to hear your thoughts on some strategies to help recover from failure.

This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

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Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

This is a big topic. Failure comes in many sizes and shapes, from not getting a good grade on a test, to not getting into the college of your choice, to missing a basket in gym. When we grade every little aspect of kid's lives, it gives us lots of data points, but we also have to give them room for improvement and allow them to take a second crack at things, from time to time. I remember getting papers back in red ink, and not even spending much time looking at them, because what was done was done, and I never found the red ink comments particularly helpful when I went to do the next assignment. School operated on an endless treadmill of assignments, and taking the time to really reflect on what went wrong- or more importantly, come up with a strategy to avoid the same error or failure in the future, would have been much more useful and important. I wish we spent more time in schools helping kids not only reflect on failure, but help them come up with ideas on how to handle the next challenge coming down the pike- and I think we often miss that step.

Rusul Alrubail's picture
Rusul Alrubail
Edutopia Community Facilitator/ Student Voice & Literacy at The Writing Project

Thanks for sharing your thoughts Whitney! The red ink is something that many students fear. I stopped using it to mark years ago after I learned from some of my ELLs that red ink symbolizes death in their language :( I agree that helping students not make the same mistake helps a lot. I think that's where the teacher's one on one feedback is so valuable when it comes to writing and assignments, and also peer-to-peer feedback.

In terms of coming up with ideas on handling the next challenge that would be a great discussion to have before assignments/tests/presentations perhaps? Though I do agree with you though that failure is very complex and can encompass many different situations for students outside of testing.

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

Rusul - I agree- teacher and peer comments, especially when they are supportive and substantive, are helpful. Learning how to give constructive critique is an art form in itself. Writing is difficult for many, because ti takes so much energy to do (syncing physical movements, ideation, structure, semantics, setting priorities and picking out the salient points, etc.) and therefore, many kids are almost hypersensitive to getting feedback and criticism, even if it's meant to be helpful.
Do you have any tips to help make this process more like coaching, and helping to teach peer to peer editing in a way where it leads to a meaningful improvement in the process overall?

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