Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Create A Culture of Failure

I want to create a culture of failure in the teachers and students I work with on a daily basis.  You may be thinking what??  This is the age of standardized testing and accountability!!  In some respects, if you feel that way you may be right, but I would say if that is indeed true then there is an even bigger need to create a culture of failure in our schools.

For our students to succeed in the world they are going to live in they need to be very good at problem solving and be flexible in their thinking.  Preparing for standardized tests does just the opposite.  Those assessments teach students there is one right answer and a specific way to get to that answer.  I would say these assessments and the preparation that some teachers/schools do to get students ready for them are sucking the creativity and flexibility our of our students.  And in turn taking away the joy of learning for all.

Failure and doing something wrong is a great way to learn.  The wrong way can lead to the right way if teachers and students are willing to fail.  In our society failure is a dirty word and the fear of failure paralyzes many people.  Most would rather do nothing than do something and fail.

We need to allow students (and teachers) the freedom to fail.  Encourage students to try something when they are struggling.  Don't be in a hurry to give them the solution.  Use what they have done as a teaching tool.  When I taught high school math I would have students stop by after school and say "I don't get #21!!"  My reply would be "what did you try?"  If the answer was nothing I told them I would help them once they helped themselves by doing something.  At the beginning of the semester this was difficult for many, but once they understood there was no punishment for doing it wrong and their wrong answer could be used to help get the correct one students began to be ok with doing something wrong as long at it helped them learn.  And isn't that the goal?  Have students help themselves learn?!?!?

The same holds true for teachers.  They need permission to fail.  If a teacher comes to me and wants to try something (as long as it is sound instructionally) I tell them to go for it and not worry about if it does not go well.  If you try something you think will be good for students and it does not go well chances are you can improve what you did.  But you can't do that if you don't try!!  Teachers worry about "what if it doesn't work?", my response is "what if it does?".

Dr. Reeves said this at a conference "try it, test it (assess it), improve it".  We can do this, if we are ok with failure. Don't be afraid of failure, embrace it and grow from it!!  Instill this in your teachers, teammates, and students.  If you do, our kids will be better off for it!!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Are you a victim of TTWWADI?

As educators we must change the way we deliver instruction to our students.  The school system most of  us currently work in is based upon decisions that were made for another time.  Most people in education have no idea why they do the things they do on a daily basis.  Little do they realize most of what they do was developed in the early 1900s - the prime of the industrial age.  We are now in the information age and the students who we see everyday have not only grown up in a digital world, but this world has affected their thinking patterns.

If the world around the education system has changed - especially in the last 15 yrs - then why has it been so difficult for the education system to meet the demands of the new world?  It think it is pretty simple.  Many people in education suffer from TTWWADI.  It is the mindset that develops as people form habits - That's The Way We've Always Done It.  TTWWADI becomes a powerful force that prohibits change as people embrace doing things the way they have always been done without ever examining the original decision to do something a particular way.  People just accept the preexisting mindset because it is the path of least resistance.

Ted McCain said "Conventional wisdom is that it takes great strength to hold on to something.  In my view, it takes the greatest strength to let go of something you have done the same way for a long time."  I would encourage all educators to look at how they instruct on a daily basis.  Is it the same as how you were instructed when you were a student?  If so, then you suffer from TTWWADI!!

If you are not engaging your students in asking and answering good questions then you are not preparing them for the world they will live in.  Schools can no longer focus on information.  Students have instant access to all kinds of information.  Memorization and low-level thinking problems are taking the enjoyment out of school for our students.  We must focus on higher-level thinking skills and instill a love of learning in every student that walks into our schools.  The only way to do that is to reflect on what you do in the classroom and question why you do it.  If you can't answer why you do something then you suffer from TTWWADI.

Be willing to let go of something you have done for a long time.  Especially if you just assumed that is the way it's supposed to be done.  Challenge yourself and your teammates to look at instruction differently.  Our students need all educators to show great strength in this regard.  The way things have always been done in education is no longer good enough for our students.  Don't allow TTWWADI get in the way of positive change.