Wow, October already, eh?
What a wild start up. For teachers and/or students reading this, I hope it’s been grand and the machine is running full steam ahead!
We had a wonderful PD session on Friday. Actually, “wonderful” doesn’t quite cut it – it was earth-shattering. I barely slept all weekend because I couldn’t keep my mind out of it.
The speaker’s name is Debbie Silver and she came to Winnipeg for a six-hour PD session. She spoke about many things, including effort, teaching the whole kid, self-efficacy and addressing “failure.” I put the last one in quotation marks because she means it in a way differently than the way that we often use it in our classroom. She used many examples to illustrate, but one stuck out to me.
She told a story of a girl who loved to rollerskate. While I don’t remember it exactly, I’ll retell it the best I can.
Once upon a time, there was a girl who loved to rollerskate. After she got home from elementary school, she would tear off her bookbag, throw off her shoes and slap on her rollerskates. She would often skate around her street from the time she got home until after the sun went down.
To her surprise and delight, her teacher announced that her class would be having a rollerskating party just before the long weekend. She couldn’t have been more excited.
When the day finally came, she got to the rink and ran to the cement pad as fast she could. She saw her friends on the bench getting into their skates, as well as her teacher on the bleachers. Other kids were already skating in circles near the sides and she couldn’t wait to join them.
The group of girls all got onto the pad at the same time and started skating. They immediately saw how comfortable the rollerskating girl was on her skates, gliding with such grace and ease, as though she had practiced for 1000 hours. They told her that she was so good that she should try a spin, and she did. As she spun, her foot caught the concrete and she fell to the ground. Her friends laughed and pulled her up. She thought about how to jump higher and spin sooner so that she could complete the move then tried again. She did better, but fell again. She thought about it some more, tweaked some of the details and tried again.
This time she did it. Her friends cheered and the girl felt very satisfied.
This process continued a few more times with figure-eights and extra high leaps, among other things. While she never completed a move on the first time, she always had it mastered by the third and by the end of the day, she had learned five more moves! All while the other kids just skated around in a boring old circle.
She couldn’t wait to tell her teacher, so at the end of the day, she took off her skates and ran up to her teacher on the bleachers.
“Did you see me?” she said. “All those other kids were just skating around in a boring old circle and I learned five new moves! Did you see me? Did you see how good I was?”
The teacher looked at her quizzically. “How good you were? My dear, you fell down more than any other kid!”
And we do that sometimes, don’t we? We always teach to performance. We punish mistakes and reward perfection. We talk about “the journey is the destination” and then we give them a test.
It breaks my heart hearing it and it breaks my heart thinking of when I’ve done it in the past. I’ve never quite had my educational foundation shaken as much as I had this weekend. Debbie Silver summarized the story so appropriately:
They didn’t fail, they fell!
That’s it! We need to let them fall and we can’t punish them for doing so. Falling is not failing.
There is so much extra baggage that comes with the word “failure.” We’ve (adults, but not necessarily only teachers) somehow enabled this behaviour where failure doesn’t become a result, it becomes an identity, and that is profoundly detrimental, especially when it becomes cumulative and the failures stack on top of one another. We now have a situation where the kid has such a burden and weight of “failure” that they just can’t get back up. It becomes an identity, instead of a result.
I have the urge to say “but that’s not real, they aren’t a failure!” but it goes so much deeper than that. To that person, it is real and they have to face it every day. Somewhere down the path of their life, they have learned that they’re a failure, regardless of whether it’s true or not, and that’s a damn shame. As teachers, maybe we have the power to stop it.
We need to teach kids how to take risks in their life (within reason, of course). If they succeed, amazing; if they fall, then we need to teach them how to get back up. I haven’t thought nearly enough about this, but I know that I’ll be writing about it for weeks to come. The blog is really a means of keeping the moving parts clean and the knife edge sharp when it comes to teaching. I need to keep reflecting, evaluating and exploring new ways to be a better teacher and journalling about it (via my website) is an effective means. And, of course, commentary is always welcome.
Even through crazy exhaustion this month, I can’t think of a time where I’ve been more motivated to be a teacher 🙂
When have you taken a risk in your life where you’ve succeeded? How did that feel? What did you learn?
When have you taken a risk in your life where you’ve fallen down (figuratively)? How did that feel? What did you learn?
Until next time,
PS: A sneak peek into next week’s post…