Nobody likes to be a failure. Think about it, have you ever looked at failure as a positive? I’ve always questioned whether the desire to succeed was brought on by societal standards or intrinsically.
All of my life, I have been terrible at math. I mean, truly terrible at it. I could never remember formulas, I always had the wrong answer, and my parents spent countless hours trying to teach me while I was sobbing on my homework. (Shout out to my mom and dad for their persistence and encouragement!) The teacher had a “drill it and kill it” style and I was always several units behind before I understood. I worked hard to earn decent grades in my math classes, but I always felt like a failure.
Recently, I had a discussion with some fellow music teachers about students who struggle. One of the most experienced teachers said that in her class, the students don’t see failure versus success; they see opportunity. Opportunity, total game changer. She continued to tell us that her students fail and mess up all the time; they get it wrong more times than right. She explained that by failing over and over (and sometimes over and over and over) again that her students ended up discovering and learning much more along the way. They would try multiple times to complete a task until they finally had the concept ingrained in their being. By that point, the concept would be second nature and the students would be applying it to new learning. Her classroom became a great example of spiral learning simply through continuous trial and error. Instead of defining right and wrong, she gently encouraged and nudged her students into the necessary direction until the internal light bulb lit up. The critical thinking in her room was off the chart.
Not only did her students gain a better understanding of the material, but her stress level greatly reduced. She became less worried about bench marks and more worried about the process her students were developing. Some students would be working on concepts for a long time while others would fly right through the material. All she had to do was gently prompt her students to try new things and to develop a culture of opportunity and acceptance in her classroom.
My reflection, what if I had approached math like this? What if I created this culture in my classroom? What if we all did? How much would our students, classrooms, schools, districts all change? A little change of mindset and attitude doesn’t seem like too much to ask for. So, next time you fail at something or a students struggles, remember it’s an opportunity.