“We need to help students feel comfortable with failure.”
I recently had the opportunity, along with 35 Christian school leaders from around the country, to spend a day at the Harvard School of Business. After touring the beautiful campus we spent time in the relatively new Harvard Innovation Lab. This is a fascinating place where undergrads and graduate students come together to try new concepts and wrestle through business ideas. The technology and collaborative space was inspiring and thought-provoking, but the quote above is what had me thinking after we departed.
One of my colleagues asked the executive director of the Innovation Lab what was one of his biggest challenges and he responded with, “we need to help students feel comfortable with failure.” It makes sense if you ponder it long enough - students who make it to Harvard typically have not struggled a lot on their academic journey. Yet this leader of a program at one of our nation’s most prestigious institutions alluded that we do not teach failure well.
I loved P.E. in middle and high school, mainly because we mostly played a lot of dodge ball. Since then schools have banned the game from P.E. classes and recess. We no longer keep score when the youngest of athletes compete, and of course everyone receives a trophy at the end. Changes are also evident in the academic realm. When I brought a bad grade home, my parents asked what I could have done differently and encouraged me to try harder next time. Of course, this is only if I showed them the grade, otherwise they waited months for the next report card. Today, parents check grades daily and poor grades are disputed with the teacher, not by the student but by the parent.
Relationships with my peers were formed on the playground or in the neighborhood where survival of the fittest ruled and parents rarely intervened (usually only if blood was drawn). Today, we organize play-dates and everything is sterilized.
My childhood was not perfect, and certainly some of these experiences caused damage. My childhood however was not free of failure. In those instances when I did fail, I learned the valuable lesson of dusting myself off and getting back up and trying again. I believe this is what is missing in our children’s lives today. We are so concerned about protecting them and nurturing them, that we do not allow them to fail. If they do fail, we give them excuses - it is the teacher’s fault, the coach does not know what he is doing, or the director does not see your talent.
Paul Tough in his wonderful book, How Children Succeed, explains that often grit is the missing trait in our children. His research shows that the young people who have experienced failure and the wonderful and difficult journey of trying again (with parental assistance), are the leaders of the future.
Charlotte Christian needs to be a place that students develop grit. Failure is an option because often the best lessons are learned there. Life is filled with disappointment - sometimes we do not make the team or win the election or are chosen for the award. Sometimes we lose, but what matters is what happens internally after those disappointments. We need to allow our children to experience this valuable lesson and as parents we need to slow down in always smoothing the waters too early before lessons can be learned.
Peter, the rock on whom Jesus built the church, was a man of grit. He failed in a public way several times, but God used those failures for His purposes and plans. I want to be at a school that develops Peters, so God the Father can use our alumni to be the rocks of the church in the future.
Head of School
on Tuesday May 20