We all want to be successful, right? With the new school year right around the corner, success and failure may be starting to weigh on the minds of students, parents and teachers. Society tends to tell us that failure is bad and success is good. But there is a critical difference between success and failure: success may have been achieved by any number of factors, both intrensic and external, while failure usually has a more narrow range of causes. This allows us to more easily identify the reason why we failed, and therefore be able to improve on it. According to Drs. Art Markman and Bob Duke of the KUT spot Two Guys on Your Head, “By focusing people on the idea that mistakes are a bad thing, we’re actually focusing people away from the very piece of information that is going to help them succeed in the future.”
“The role of society, the role of teachers, is to create an environment that gives us some scaffolding, that gives us training wheels, in order to allow us to do that set of things that’s currently just beyond our reach. So that we fail in the process of doing that, but so that we don’t fail spectacularly.” The process of learning is often fail – improve – stretch – grow – succeed! According to the Two Guys, our brains are wired such that failure is a key aspect of eventual success. Yes, failure often results in negative feelings, and success often results in positive feelings. Our reward-seeking brains naturally want the good feelings that come from success. But the feelings that arise from failure aren’t designed to deter us from trying anything at all…they are “learning tools,” designed to inspire the desire to improve, so that we do eventually experience the positive rewards of success. The biggest mistake, therefore, is not trying in the first place. We are wired to learn and grow our whole lives!
In Social and Emotional Learning, we talk a lot about growth mindset–the idea that our brains remain plastic our entire lives, and with practice and work, we can learn new skills and get smarter no matter how old we are. The Two Guys are talking about failure in terms of growth mindset–instead of seeing failure as a signal to give up, failure is the impetus to keep working toward our desired outcome. Let’s start this school year off committed to nurturing our growth mindset during teaching and learning–our brains, ourselves, and the world will be better for it!