Friday, March 10, 2017


This post is part of the Slice of Life March Challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers.
Check it out and join us.

One of the great things about March is the privilege of reading the posts of other people who participate. We grow as a community as we share in one another's lives and ideas. I read this post and was reminded that I have had thoughts on the subject of failure percolating as well. Now the challenge is to see if I can articulate them.

The idea of failing or failure as something we should strive for has gained traction in recent years."Failing forward", as a concept, I can agree with. It is the idea that failure provides the opportunity for growth - the chance to learn from what goes wrong.

As I said, the concept I absolutely agree with; when something doesn't work you don't just throw in the towel. Instead, by trying again (and again and again) you will find a way forward.

What I don't understand is the focus on the word 'failure'. To me failure is giving up and/or not trying. The notion of throwing in the towel, to me, is completely opposite of the concept that has become popular. 

I find that encouraging a 'growth mindset' for my daughter and my students is important to their ability to continue to try things. Creating a place where ideas can be tried and massaged and tried again and thrown out for new ideas is what I strive for. When the word 'failure' enters the ring many of my students shut down.

Perhaps it is because nearly all of my students are not native English speakers and their first thought of failure seems to be attached to an 'F' on a report card. Perhaps it is something about how I use the word or frame my ideas. I am not sure.

One example of where we have to discussing failure not being negative is during science experiments. An experiment can fail to prove a hypothesis, thus the experiment is a 'failure', however this does not mean the students have failed! The first time I bring this up I always have at least one student whose eyeballs nearly pop out of their skull and generally it is someone for whom their parents have stressed that it is not acceptable for them to fail, as in 'bring home an F'.

So why the talk of 'failure'? The examples of 'famous failures' are not new examples, but it is only recently that they have been labeled as such. Previously it was about overcoming adversity or following the example of The LIttle Engine Who Could and how to try, try again with the power of positive self talk.

I don't hear or read of anyone else pushing back on what feels like a rebranding to me. What are your thoughts?


  1. I do agree that it's a rebranding, but I think that language is constantly evolving. One way we can do this is by "taking back a word," which I believe is at the heart of this movement. I agree that hearing the word is an automatic turn-off for many. How would you brand it?

  2. Great topic.
    You got me looking at the actual word FAILURE
    I am intrigued to look up the history of the word

    mid 17th century (originally as failer, in the senses ‘nonoccurrence’ and ‘cessation of supply’): from Anglo-Norman French failer for Old French faillir

    I like the nonoccurrence - perhaps it is no big deal

    I see the word - LURE
    a failure can tempt someone to try it again, differently, better..

    It looks a bit like fall
    The verb fail comes from the Old French word faillir, meaning “be lacking,” “miss,” or “not succeed.”

    verb - trouble or afflict (someone) in mind or body.

    RE at the end of the word
    again and again

    RE is also the Egyptian sun god

    you miss - you - again and again/you can shine like the sun

  3. I like what you had to say here. I think that the word failure is a hard one to swallow. I think of the expression that we have said "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." To me this calls to mind the fact that we are always learning and practicing. Sometimes we just need to practice more. If I am trying to learn how to open an egg with one hand, I will expect to "fail" many times. I understand that I need practice. Mental skills should be seen the same way.