Every week, EPIC Superintendent Bart Banfield explores topics related to education, learning, leadership and more. Be sure to check back each week for the latest.
Don’t Fear Failure
Some of you may not know this, but when I was a public school teacher at Eufaula High School in the 1990s, I was a girls’ basketball coach. Coaching is a passion of mine, not just because of my love of the sport but because I’ve always seen it as an opportunity to teach my student-athletes valuable life lessons that are inherent in the game, one of the most important of which is the value of failure.
It’s counterintuitive to think of failure as a good thing. We live in a success-driven society that places a high premium on “getting it right the first time,” when the truth is that hardly ever happens. And while success is something we all want and should aspire to, I’ve always believed that success is made just a little sweeter when it’s the result of trying and failing first. In fact, history is filled with examples of famous people who racked up quite a list of failures before the right breakthrough at the right time changed everything.
Thomas Edison failed more than 10,000 times in his effort to create a commercially viable electric lightbulb. Of his failures, he said, “I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”
Before he found success with Mickey Mouse, Walt Disney suffered a mental breakdown, bankruptcy and the loss of control over his creation, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. To him, there were advantages in these failures. He once said, “It’s good to have a failure when you’re young because it teaches you so much.”
I couldn’t agree more.
I believe that we, as adults, have a responsibility to the children in our lives to adopt a growth mindset and show them that failure is part of learning, growing and evolving. This has been a central tenet of my instructional career and of my personal life. Whenever possible, I try to celebrate my failures, assess what didn’t work and try again. I try to remember that as long as I’m making new mistakes, I am developing as a person. I try to remember that I haven’t really failed, I just haven’t succeeded at it yet.
There is a vulnerability in failure, and vulnerability can lead to fear and doubt. What if I lose the respect of my peers because I failed? Do I have what it takes? Should I just give up? These are all questions anyone who has ever failed at anything has asked themselves. But if each of us do our best to create, wherever we are, a culture of safety, of encouragement, and of persistence, we’ll be creating a better world.