The Gift of Failure: 50 Tips for Teaching Students How to Fail Well

Fail quote

What if, when students failed, teachers praised them? In the business world, the world of entrepreneurship, failure remains inevitable but so does success if you keep plugging away at your goal.

Embracing this in education teaches students to learn that mistakes lead to success. Science teachers probably understand this concept better than most teachers. They just happen to call it hypothesis or refer to it as an experiment instead of failure.

Think about all the times we’ve met with failure and collapsed. So many of us needed someone to help us along like a personal trainer. If we had had that, we may have been more successful at whatever goal we had failed to meet or had been more resilient in the future.

Playing a game of soccer means the ball won’t land in the goal most of the time. Plunking away on the keys of a computer means facing the fact that there will be mistakes that need to be fixed. Meeting someone new then attempting a friendship means that person might not always like you or what you say. But, we do it because we innately know that failure is a part of life. Otherwise, we’d have to drop out of life and then that would also be failure.

So, teaching your students to learn from failure, that it’s actually the key to success in any venture they embark on, will change your and your students’ perspective and so create a more open and fruitful learning environment.

Follow these 50 tips for teaching your students how to fail and the dynamics of communicating with them will change. Assignments and lessons will turn into an exchange rather than a demand.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  Keep in mind that you may proudly tell yourself that you already do this when you scan over the tips, but there’s a pattern and a nuance to teaching students how to fail. These tips connect and complement one another so that the students actually learn and grow from the experience.

Tip #1:  Point out their mistakes.

Sometimes, as teachers, we may not want to hurt the feelings or egos of our students so we dismiss a mistake as irrelevant, but it’s our job to point it out. Then, we make the student aware of the fact that they need to fix it.

Tip #2:  Praise them immediately.

This becomes very important in the beginning—more important than breathing. Establish that making mistakes isn’t just acceptable but that it’s good. Praise students’ efforts, not necessarily their success.

Tip #3:  Push them.

Challenge them by bringing them to that point where you know they don’t know the answers. If they always know the answer, it’s just too easy. It’s like working the same muscles for months at a time. It doesn’t help you lose weight after a while.

Tip #4:  Incite them.

Give them something to be upset about, especially if you notice that some of them are just taking up space and seem inactive. Make a controversial comment, ask a thoughtful question that will provoke anger and therefore give them a chance to get involved. And, of course, they must then make mistakes.

Tip #5:  Insert lesson here.

In between all the pushing, make sure you teach them. When you start with a mistake, it always has to end in a lesson. Even more so, mistakes and failure provide a fertile ground for teaching.

Tip #6:  Question them.

One question isn’t enough. Riddle them with questions, and make sure that you always get to the why question. The other types may be necessary and provide sufficient information, but the why question forces students to think deeper and add meaning to their learning.

Tip #7:  Confess to them.

Admitting that you’ve failed yourself means your human. So, despite the way many teachers enjoy standing on their pedestal and announcing their superiority. Confessions bring your students closure to you and ensure that they will follow you the whole way through.

Tip #8:  Entice them.

Reel them in with bits and pieces of information. Don’t give them everything they need to complete their assignment or answer too quickly. One of the toughest skills of teaching lies with holding back the knowledge and waiting for the student to figure it out on his or her own.

Tip #9:  Experiment with them.

Give them a test where they know failure is allowed. They’ll take it and learn from it either way. Tell them exactly what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, and why you’re doing it. The ultimate goal isn’t failure but dialogue. You, the teacher, learn more about them and how to help them.

Tip #10:  “How much will I fail?”

For reluctant students, this works well. Tell them to imagine the many scenarios where they fail. Build it all up and walk around in it. See what it feels like before it happens and then when it happens it won’t be such a surprise.

Tip #11:  It’s all in the details.

When you do this, teach them to pay attention to details while making sure that they know fixing a mistake is exactly when learning begins. The answer is usually in the details so have them explain this and understand it.

Tip #12:  Expose them to the unknown.

There’s no better breeding ground for failure than exposing them to a completely foreign concept. Plunge them into a place where they don’t know what’s coming next. It feels like their feet can’t find the floor but it also exposes them to the notion of taking risks and you then get to show them how to regain their footing again.

Tip #13:  Encourage risk-taking behavior.

There are those moments when a teacher’s natural inclination is to act like a parent. We tend to act like mother hens and keep them nicely gathered into groups and straight lines. But, when a student exhibits behavior that shows he or she is a risk-taker, encourage it. Let them loose to walk out of step with the rest.

Tip #14:  Let them take baby steps.

On the flip side, although some students may be more inclined to be risk-takers, others simply aren’t. That’s when you still apply the other Tips but hold back on the students who show anxiety when pushed too hard.

Tip #15:  Discourage perfectionists.

This entails a lot more than baby steps. If you have to deal with perfectionists, you need to come right out and tell them that part of the criteria for learning requires them to make mistakes. In fact, make it a grade that they must make mistakes or the perfectionists might resist until the very end.

Tip #16:  Stay Positive.

The majority of people don’t see making mistakes as good, so staying positive will make a huge difference, especially because students will be negative at least at first.

Tip #17: Teach them to apologize.

Making mistakes means that at some point someone else might get their feelings hurt or become upset. This is the best time to work on saying you’re sorry. So many people spend their lives not knowing how to say they’re sorry and they lose a lot of friends and loved ones in the process. You might have to be the first person to say you’re sorry.

Tip #18:  Teach them to take responsibility.

Showing them how to take responsibility for their actions is another great tool to use when in the process of learning from mistakes. Especially because blaming others usually just keeps people stuck in their failures.

Tip #19:  Teach them to start over.

Starting over will be a necessary tool to not just learning from failure but overcoming it. The idea of teaching them to start over means they may have to just scrap everything and start from scratch sometimes.

Tip #20:  Teach them to focus.

Whatever their focal point, that’s where they’ll go. Learning from failure doesn’t just mean you look at the mistake but that you also adjust the way you learn the next time. Changing focus becomes that much more important.

Tip #21:  Show them how to problem solve.

Once they’re comfortable with making mistakes, starting over, and adjusting their focus, they need to learn to problem solve. There are those turning points when the mistakes they’ve made help them learn how to fix a problem. If they can’t do it on their own, help them along.

Tip #22:  Help them eliminate fear.

If you notice that some students fester in the feelings of fear, help them extinguish this. You can tell because their comments or their performance will be tainted with mediocrity.

Tip #23:  Brush them off.

Some will also linger in their failure for too long. You may have to simply brush them off with a nice swift command to get up and keep going. Others may need you to tell them exactly what they’re doing wrong.

Tip #24:  Foster curiosity.

In order to dig into any lesson or learn anything new there needs to be a deep level of curiosity. If there’s a dull break in their work, then foster curiosity by enabling them to wander in different directions with their assignments.

Tip #25:  Bridge gaps.

If you see that students aren’t just making mistakes but truly don’t have the tools to learn from them then bridge the gaps with information, reading material, whatever they need to move on to the next step.

Tip #26:  Show them respect.

If they aren’t up to par with the rest of the students, don’t make them feel as if they are. Offer them the respect you would to even a superior because they probably already feel sensitive about it.

Tip #27:  Teach them to collaborate.

At this point students should be pretty comfortable with failure, so collaboration should come easily and effectively. Students then help each other learn how to not just problem solve but lend a helping hand when moving to the next level.

Tip #28:  Emphasize practice.

Once they’ve learned or mastered something. Slip the word “practice” into the equation. It’s one of the most reviled words in student language so sneaking it into learning becomes imperative to making it actually happen.

Tip #29:  Teach them to visualize.

Another way to help student fix their mistakes is to teach them to visualize overcoming them. It’s not only a powerful but a functional tool across the board. This applies to so many types of lessons, criteria, and paths in life.

Tip #30:  Teach them to innovate.

With innovation success follows at one point or another but so does failure. Maneuvering them through creative sessions filled with new ideas that may or may not fail gives helps to build their confidence and gives you a chance to show them that failing is part of success. Click here to read more about education innovators.

Tip #31:  Don’t let them give up.

When students pound away at a new idea, it can be overwhelming and sometimes cause anxiety. Some grab that and use it to their advantage while others just simply give up. Be aware of it and stop it before it happens. Click here to read more about promoting grit and delayed gratification.

Tip #32:  Teach them courage.

Courage was never born of success. It took a heavy dose of failure to enable it. When you start to wonder whether or not things are working out for a particular student or a group of students with failure after failure, just remember the pillars of courage are materializing with the teacher coaching students along the way.

Tip #33:  Teach them to build thick skin.

Within the larger picture of teaching courage, there’s a body of thick skin necessary to get there. Wounds drain anyone of vital energy needed to move on, so help students build thick skin by giving them power (energy). That power may be in the form of a positive remark, a tough demand, or a redirection.

Tip #34:  Let them cry/whine/complain.

Within the need for thick skin, the need to make some more space for power may come in the form of crying, whining or complaining. That doesn’t mean they get to remain there, but let it happen depending on the significance of the failure.

Tip #35:  Redirect them.

Redirection blends with TIP #5 Insert Lesson Here. It’s always necessary to redirect because you need that almost as a segue to inserting the lesson you want to teach. Eventually, however, you do want them moving independently from failure to lesson but that’s even hard for a pro.

Tip #36:  Empower them.

Yes, empowering them encapsulates giving them a lesson but it’s the opposite of inserting a lesson. You need to give them that independence to do what they need to in order to get from A to B. Empowering them means letting go and therefore showing them they can do this on their own. Click here to read our interview with Venspired’s Krissy Venosdale who said that teachers don’t need to know all the answers.

Tip #37:  Teach them to believe in themselves.

Teaching them to believe in themselves is similar to confidence but not. Having confidence could mean faking it. Teaching them to believe in themselves means you continue to reiterate that they have the means and tools to accomplish their goals/dreams right there inside them.

Tip #38:  Inspire them.

Offer inspiration at every turn. By inspiration, that doesn’t mean positive reinforcement. It means finding those characteristics unique to them and using it with all of the above. Sprinkle it throughout the learning process and the results will amaze both teacher and student.

Tip #39:  Help them build character.

While developing a thick skin may make them all-powerful, what’s the point if you’re left with another version of a power-hungry business person? While including collaboration, add a dash of character by challenging them to show the benefits to the world around them in whatever form that may be. This may embody a small-scale response or a larger concept depending on the subject.

Tip #40:  Make them feel comfortable.

Intermingled with several Tips, create comfort. A calming feeling may be needed if everything gets too intense. For instance, if after inciting students to action, they end up clawing at each other instead, then balance the situation with comforting, soothing remarks.

Tip #41:  Teach them to embrace failure.

Knowing that failure is their key to success should be sinking in by now, but if it’s not, teach them to embrace it. They need to understand that without failure they simply can’t succeed so make that clear to them.

Tip #42:  Teach them to bounce.

Show them how to bounce back. If they’ve built a nice layer of thick skin after their exposure to failure, they also need to have elasticity. Show them that they can fail more effectively when they treat it as a springboard as opposed to a solid force with which to plant your feet.

Tip #43:  Teach them choice.

Give them options. Through multiple failures there’s a pronounced understanding that you could’ve done things differently. So, point out their ability to make choices and change them.

Tip #44:  Teach them resilience.

Bouncing back means nothing without the essence of resilience. After allowing whatever particular failure to spring off of them, they too need to be able to form some of their original shape. The idea is that they recover with little or no bruising. They master keeping themselves intact.

Tip #45:  Teach them to care.

Remember that failing takes it’s toll on a person so between building them up and establishing resilience, don’t let them lose the ability to care. Cold-hearted winners are never the goal. Creating balance and kindness benefits all.

Tip #46:  Teach them strategy.

Learning strategy or a new strategy means implementing a subtle edge where there wasn’t one before. It also means jumping a hurtle that was overlooked the first time around. Helping students adjust their strategies for best end-results fine tunes their skills bringing them closer to success.

Tip #47:  Show them success.

Here’s the tricky part. By now, you’ve tripped and fallen flat with them so many times that they’re bound to find a modicum of success on their own let alone with any lesson you’re guiding them through. However, if that hasn’t happened, please give them a taste of success or the whole idea of failure becomes pointless. Click here to learn more about giving feedback.

Tip #48:  Point out power.

Show them how success and power work hand in hand. People, who are given power without having felt it and considered it at least once before, can get sucked into it and lose themselves.

Tip #49:  Emphasize humility.

What made the learning process so functional and powerful in the first place was the humility everyone began with. The students knew nothing and, if they thought they did, it was the job of the teacher to remind them that there was still more to learn. Just say it. Remind them of this.

Tip #50:  Shake their hands.

Whether they’re right in front of you or roaming around in a virtual world. Shake their hands. Pat them on the backs. A “job well-done” coming from their teacher means a whole lot more than any other reward given, especially when you’ve been through the roller coaster ride of failure and success.

About

A former Publications Specialist at Florida International University where she also received a bachelor’s degree in English, Lisa Chesser left the publishing field to pursue a career in education.

In her first three years of teaching Language Arts, she won an Excellence in Teaching Award for helping students achieve 50 percent learning gains. Because she’s also a writer, an editor, and an artist by trade, students often take more interest in their learning environment because she teaches them the value of it in the workplace.

You can find her on Google+.

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4 Comments on “The Gift of Failure: 50 Tips for Teaching Students How to Fail Well

  1. So true. It’s important to use the tips together. Thanks for reading through all of them and planning to apply them. Your students will appreciate it.

  2. Excellent article. SHowing students they can fail and it will be a good lesson will make them more proactive and willing to take risks as adults.

  3. Just a ‘thanks’ for reminding me of what is important to be instilling in my primary classroom. Keep it up!

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