Today’s educational world has parents more involved than they ever have been before. For one thing, the pressure to know what’s going on with their children’s grades has gotten much more intense. There’s a sense that every class (even in elementary and middle school) is a make-or-break moment that could prevent the child from progressing to the next level. In some ways, this makes every single test, every project, and sometimes even every homework assignment feel like an immensely important milestone. Parents feel pressured to make sure that their child achieves the highest score possible because that score could be the difference between getting into college or failing to meet their life’s goals.
At the same time, parents have more access and information than ever before. In the past, parents would get an overview of their student’s progress in the class a few times a year. Now, online learning systems have parents getting updates every time their child has a pop quiz graded, and each of those numerical scores feels like a personal judgment and chance to intervene.
Parents Want to Help Their Children Succeed
With these two realities colliding, many parents rush to “fix” any educational problems that they see emerging from their children’s scores. They want to help their children succeed, and they think that making sure they get a chance to re-do an assignment they failed or take a make-up exam or even just to argue for a better grade without doing any additional work will be the best way to help their children move on to bigger and better things.
Is this the right attitude, though? Is getting high scores on everything really the marker of a better-prepared student?
Experts don’t think so. They say that failing is a key point of success, and it’s important that students learn to fail and recover early in their educational experiences so that they don’t get shocked by the failures they will inevitably encounter later in life.
Failure is the Key to Success
Seth Godin is an entrepreneurial expert and best-selling author, and he explains that the key to success is actually failure. The person who can fail and keep going is the person who has the important skills of perseverance, perspective, and critical thinking to help them reach success far beyond what others achieve.
Failure is also an important component of innovation. When people are able to fail, recover, and try again, they end up with new ideas that are outside of the scope of what was previously considered possible. It is only through testing the boundaries of what is already there that we can arrive at new ideas and innovative discoveries, but the only people who have the skills necessary to keep testing boundaries are the ones who aren’t afraid to fail in the first place.
Learning to Fail Starts Early
Students who have never failed are not learning the important skills of recovery and resilience. If everything has always ended in success, then they don’t learn how to reflect on what they did and come up with new strategies for the future. In their early education, this lack of resilience might not show up as a serious obstacle. They may be able to carry through all of high school acing every test and assignment without any ill effects, but eventually, they are going to get to a project that doesn’t work out.
They’ll take a class that’s harder than any class they’ve ever taken before. They’ll be assigned a task that they don’t know how to complete. They’ll get a job where they are pushed to their limits. These are the goals, after all. We want our children to be able to face the most challenging tasks of their lives because this means they will be able to constantly grow and thrive in new environments.
In order to get there, though, they have to learn how to fail and fail well. They have to learn that a poor grade on a test is just an opportunity to approach the task differently next time. They have to understand that failure is not permanent or a marker of their potential. It is simply a measure of how well they accomplished that particular task at that particular moment. Once they can recognize that reality, they will have the skills to take lessons from their failures and do amazing things without fear of getting it wrong. Getting it wrong is part of the process of getting it right, and they can learn that lesson early.
While that low grade can send a shock of panic into a parent, it’s important to push that feeling aside and reframe the situation as an opportunity for growth. Make failure a starting point rather than an end.
At The Tenney School, we strive to teach young learners that their worth is in their future potential and that potential is limitless. They can go on to do amazing things as long as they are able to continue to learn and grow, and that means facing their mistakes with an inquisitive mind rather than a sense of fear.