I’ve heard it time and time again in the Tech Coach role, “It’s perfectly acceptable to fail.” I don’t take failing lightly, so this is hard advice to take. But I did it. I failed. And it was wonderful.
I am working in a fourth grade classroom with an extremely capable and excellent teacher, whom I’ve known for quite some time. She is very cautious about using new technology that she doesn’t understand completely, and I get it. Learning new stuff is scary. So I was in her class yesterday, with 23 very bright and very capable students, and we were trying something new in Mahara, our digital portfolio software. The teacher was a bit apprehensive, the students were eager and willing, and I was confident and ready. And then things started to go wrong.
The app I was using had been upgraded, and because of this, processes changed. Buttons moved. Options disappeared. And I was dumbfounded. I called the helpdesk, and they, too, were at a loss. I turned it over to the students to try to solve (they are usually my best problem-solvers). Nothing. So I switched gears and used a workaround, which worked, but not without added steps. The final product did not meet the teachers’ standards, nor did it meet mine. And by now, the teacher was trying not to panic, the students were frustrated, and I was panicked and frustrated.
I don’t fail well.
We finally got through the lesson, and as I walked out the door, I thanked the students for being patient and understanding when things don’t go as planned, and I pulled the teacher aside. I apologized for the way the lesson went, and I thanked her for her own patience. And then, I promised her that tomorrow would be better. Don’t be discouraged. Tomorrow is a new day. And it was.
Today, I began my lesson in her class with a heartfelt “Thank You”. I explained to them that I felt I had failed yesterday. I talked about how I am encouraged to fail every now and then in my role, and asked them to tell me why that would be the case. They nailed it. “Because when you fail, you learn.” Direct quote from one of the fourth graders. And he is 100% correct.
We had a nice discussion about failing, and learning, and growing. I thanked the teacher for allowing me to come back to her room today and continue my lesson, even though it was a horrific experience yesterday. I thanked all of the students for not giving up. And then, we got down to business. The class had a task to complete, and they were ready. As I stood in front of them, I realized two things: they were waiting for me to tell them what to do, and they were counting on me not to fail again. And then I remember something I had just read in the book The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. Teachers should be architects of experience, while students create the learning for themselves.
So I became the architect.
I gave the students an outline of the goal: download a picture from Google Classroom, upload it into a text box in Mahara, and write a reflection about it. That was it. I gave them no other directions. And I set a timer.
Five minutes later, at least 90% of the class had successfully done what was asked, with little to no instruction from the teachers. We walked around, guided those that may have gotten off track, and enlisted the help of those who could not only do it, but could show others. Our “tech-sperts,” if you may. And the kids created their own knowledge. And they taught one another. And it was exciting. And the teacher was relieved. And a lesson was learned: sometimes, it isn’t just ok to fail. It’s absolutely WONDERFUL to fail. As long as you learn from the experience.
The class went on to successfully master a few more skills before I left, again with little direction from the teachers. We told them the expectation, and they figured out how they were going to meet it. They tried things, made mistakes, tried again, enlisted the help of peers, and finally figured it out. And they LEARNED.
As I walked out of the room today, I thanked the students for their bravery in trying something new, for their willingness to learn, and most importantly, for letting me fail. They were so very proud of themselves and the work they had accomplished. I then turned to the teacher and thanked her for allowing me back after the debacle from yesterday, and having faith that it will all work out. And most importantly, for not giving up. She was super excited at how the morning went, and we cemented our plan for next week, which is diving deeper with Mahara. And we will all be ready. And if we fail, we’ll be ready for that, too.