This week began session 5 of TAAP. I welcomed back the STEM teams and gave each a challenge. As 4th graders tried to build water towers that were 12 inches high and could hold an 8 ounce container of water for 10 seconds, one of the teams was struggling to keep their structure balanced. A member of the other team ran over to their table and yelled, "FAIL!" This unfortunate remark offered us just the teachable moment to address the elephant in the room: How do you feel when you fail? Are you like Thomas Edison, just seeing failure as a part of the learning process? Or does the thought of failure stop you in your tracks? I asked the kids to write down their thoughts about failure on a sticky note. Then we crumpled up the notes and tossed them into a basket. The responses were then anonymously shared. Half of the responses were self-deprecating, most commonly reflecting feelings of disappointment, embarrassment, frustration, fear, being "singled" out, and sadness/ hopelessness. One quarter of the responses revealed feelings of anger and one quarter of the kids responded that they felt OK, that making mistakes was part of learning. We were able to see that feelings of failure are individual and play a huge role in the ability of a student to persevere. We also talked about barriers and bridges to learning and accepting failure- how we can support each other as we make mistakes instead of calling others out with each error.
For students who are academically able, failure or even the fear of failure is a very real and daily struggle. There have been many papers released on perfectionism in gifted children. The tremendous pressure many students put on themselves to maintain excellence can be overwhelming. We know that there will always be someone nearby, waiting for you to make a mistake, waiting to yell, " FAIL!" Sometimes we do it to ourselves.
As I look at the students who I serve and think about how to support them on their journey of learning, I think this quote is the most 'real' and effective in addressing their concerns.
"Success is not final. Failure is not fatal. It's the courage to continue that counts."-- Winston Churchill
I won't wait until September to tell them.