Finding Success in Failure: Growth Mindset in Action

This is the 5th installment of an awesome blog hop on Mindsets in the Classroom by Mary Cay Ricci.  If you haven't already, you might want to check out the first four posts.



How do you handle failure?  What do you do when failure is possible or may even be imminent?  In all my deepest honesty, I avoid failure at every possible cost.  I will shrink away from responsibility or even avoid an activity all together if I know I won't be successful.  Learning that "...failure can be a reward, for it is through failure that we can learn the most," has not been something I have been personally willing to accept as of yet.

While students with a growth mindset try to learn from their mistakes and approach new tasks in a new way or with more effort.  Those with a fixed mindset often give up and give in to stereotypical phrases, such as "I'm dumb," "I'll never get this," "I'm not good at x."  

What is needed is for educators to develop an environment where failure is accepted and even celebrated, so that students can learn how to reflect on their learning and redirect themselves in new ways.  Take for instance this great scene from Meet the Robinsons.


Hand in hand with a discussion of failure is one on motivation and effort.  It is an examination of these attributes that were a precursor to that of growth mindset.  The book reminds us of that study and that effort and success are usually brought about by internalization of actions and beliefs, while failure is attributed to skill difficulty and sheer luck.

To help bring about that internalization of actions and beliefs, students must be trained to accept intrinsic rather than extrinsic rewards.  Praise and positive feelings about effort and persistence do much more for the development of the child than money, certificates, trinkets, or prizes ever could. Giving students autonomy is another catalyst in growth mindset as well.

Overall we must change how we look at failure.  We need to teach students to see it as feedback and data, not as a judgment on their person.  We need to allow kids to fail so they can learn how to deal with it, make adjustments, and move on.  Failure can build resiliency, but only if we look at it as a means to a new end, and not as the end.


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