and learned from it.
The best way to improve is by challenging ourselves to go beyond what we think we are capable of. This is uncomfortable because we are likely to fail. It’s human nature to be embarrassed by our failures. It’s hard to take risks. But the lessons we learn through failed attempts teach us how to adapt and excel. We should celebrate our failed attempts because of how those hardships and challenging times shape and mold us. If we do only do what is safe, we won’t excel at anything. Our capabilities will never reach their potential. We remain an inferior version of ourselves.
I’m convinced that this is the main reason why most teachers never reach their full potential. Administrations typically don’t challenge their teaching staff to try things that go beyond what they think they are capable of. Teachers don’t earn high marks for the most unsuccessful attempts, even if those attempts are trying out new and potentially revolutionary teaching methods or techniques. Most teachers believe they can only earn high marks for choosing safe and easy lessons that run smoothly, and follow the mold of traditional classroom routines.
I believe that I am in a rare situation with the administration at my current school. I failed miserably at a lesson I was recently evaluated on, yet I was evaluated on what I learned from my failures, not the fact that I failed. It allowed me to ask questions to gain insight from my administrator. Here’s what happened. I invited my administration team to join my class in a Google Hangout with Kodable co-founder Grechen Hubener. I’ve done many Hangouts, and thought I was well prepared. I felt confident that it would be a successful class. Students were ready with questions and had a place to take notes on a shared Google Doc. When the Hangout started, the audio wouldn’t work. I was super embarrassed and flustered trying to troubleshoot the audio, checking the settings, signing out and back in. Precious class time was ticking away and I was wasting the time of my students, Grechen and my administration as they stood by watching. Finally, Grechen Googled the issue and suggested that I try using a different browser. I exited Chrome and signed in to Firefox. I had to update the browser’s plugins, but that finally fixed it. I think it took more than 20 minutes to fix the issue, but it seemed like more than an hour. You can imagine that this totally threw off my lesson plans!
During my post-evaluation conference, I did not receive low marks for wasting a third of the class trying to troubleshoot technical issues. (To this day, I still don’t understand why the audio on Hangouts worked every time before that and has worked every time since. It seems like a freak incident.) I was encouraged by my administrator for attempting a lesson that had a lot of potential for failure, but also had potential for high impact on student learning and engagement.
I was asked to reflect on what I learned, and to explain what I would do differently in the future. This allowed us to have a meaningful conversation that helped me become a better version of myself.
My takeaways are that I’m learning how to stay calm and think clearer during high pressure situations. I’m learning how to be better prepared even when I think I’ve already crossed my Ts and dotted my Is. I’m learning that even when I’m flustered and can’t think straight, others are willing to give me the benefit of the doubt, so I don’t need to beat myself up repeatedly over those things. I can keep taking risks, and I can use failed attempts as stepping stones for greater things ahead.
In contrast, I didn’t say that I would try something safer and easier next time, so that I could be more comfortable and feel more successful. Yet this is what happens when teachers feel like they have no room for failure (whether it’s self imposed or imposed by administration). They do what is safe and comfortable and never become the best versions of themselves.
Go ahead, share your failures (or reflections from those failures) in the comments below.