Lower the Cost of Failure #sol19


images-1 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.

13 thoughts on “Lower the Cost of Failure #sol19

  1. “What failures can we create in order to promote learning?” This line is one that really popped out for me. It made me wonder is it failure that we want to create or the structure that allows for failure, discovery, and surprise. When I watch children make choices during Journal Soft Start, it is a reminder to me that yes, “the attention to the idea”, is what we need to hear and “struggle” with in order to turn “it” into something more – innovation. I believe this is true in order to have engaged learners and excited, innovative teachers! Thanks, as always, for sharing and pushing my thinking!

  2. “Experience sitting in the struggle” can be time consuming and painful for the student and all involved. I needed to condition myself to accept that purpose is a good use of instructional time…looking at it as a path from failure to discovery and surprise could help me encourage students to let the failure happen.

  3. I saw your tweet about this quote and it had me thinking too… I think that I’m also a rescuer. I am always asking, “what is everyone afraid of?!?” Getting in trouble? That hardly ever happens. We need to see problems/issues and dream of the solutions… or the tries. There is no failure in that. Thanks for getting us thinking!

  4. Wow, this is such an insightful post. I really resonated with the idea of embracing learning from failure as a teacher but maybe not fulling extending it to students. I want to reflect and explore on this for my own students. Thank you for sharing!

  5. “What failures can we create in order to promote learning?” We talk about failure at the time, the fact we all will and do, but that it’s how we respond that that failure that shows our true character. I guess I’ve not ever thought about that idea of lowering the cost. An interesting thought that will bug me for a while.

    Thank you for the slice! 🙂

  6. “I might have already been a risk taker, but maybe also a rescuer.” This has me thinking hard. I am a risk-taker (even though, as I posted this week, I like my routines and have to sometimes push myself to take risks), but I tend to want to rescue people. I have to work to let people find their own solutions, work through their own struggles. I try to tell myself that I have to give them that gift of time and experience. That’s how we learn. It’s unfair for me to jump in and solve the problem for them. That robs them of so much. Thank you for making me think more about this idea.

  7. Thank you for this post! I think vulnerability starts with us as teachers, as mentors, as coaches. Writing alongside my students is one way that I model this vulnerability that exposes my failures and successes. When kids see that “failure” leads to powerful learning, I think they are more apt to persevere and take risks. Thanks for sparking some good reflection!

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