Lower the Cost of Failure #sol19
February 12, 2019
The bottom half of this quote came across my screen saver yesterday morning. Lower the cost of failure.
Lower the cost of failure. I paused when I read that. What is the cost of failure and to whom?
Lower the cost of failure. It floated through my thinking all day yesterday. I was thinking about it when one of my second graders stumbled over a word when she was reading with her book club and then struggled the rest of the page. I was thinking about it when another second grade reader wouldn’t read the books in his book page to his kindergarten reading buddy. I was thinking about it when a third grader started to cry when I asked her to explain more about her theory during reading. I thought it about hard when the principal said in our staff meeting full of teachers early in their careers that (insert some large percentage) of teachers in their first five years burn out. I couldn’t help myself. I turned to the first year teachers next to me and said in a whisper, but not here… But am I right?
Joichi Ito is the director of the MIT Media Lab and wrote this quote about innovation. I am theorizing that implied in that idea is the willingness to risk. Willingness to risk. While my idea of what it means to ‘put yourself out there’ perhaps didn’t include the idea of innovation, it might not be far off.
For years now, many educators have been considering students willingness to persevere. That willingness to keep trying when the going gets tougher. I am wondering what we may have done to encourage that thinking. I read Choice Words and Mindset. I even read The Rise. I might have already been a risk taker, but maybe also a rescuer. I embrace the messiness of learning, of experimenting, of I think even failing, but have I allowed students and even colleagues to experience ‘sitting in the struggle’.
What to do when considering lowering the cost of failure? What systemic changes should we champion? What subtle shifts in language and behaviors might we make? What mentor texts and learning structures encourage students to try? What failures can we create in order to promote learning?
I remember that my grandmother had a Christmas cactus, or that’s what she called it. She put in a dark place for a few months out of the year in order to force it to bloom at Christmas. It was beautiful and large, but I wondered about why it needed to be sheltered away in order to bloom. A few years ago, someone gave me that same kind of cactus as a gift. It was blooming beautifully, but quit soon after. I resigned myself to thinking it would not bloom again. I was unwilling to closet the cactus and then drag it out later. That cactus thrives on my particular brand of neglect, infrequent water. In that sunny window in my living room, it blooms over and over again. Even at Christmas.
So I suppose there’s not just one way to lower the cost of failure. My grandmother’s careful planning and my benign neglect worked for each of us in turn. Perhaps it is merely the attention to the idea, the consideration of what we might do and then a conscious action that can start us collectively on the road to innovation in the broadest sense of the word.
Thank you my Slice of Life partners for making failure not even a thought.