• Michelle Bickhaus

Teaching Resilience: It's OK to Fail

It’s human nature to want to protect our children (our own children as well as our students) from hardship. WE have learned from our mistakes and we long to pass that knowledge down to protect our children and keep them from experiencing failure. If we can save them from the pain of failure then WE are more at ease.


The hard-for-us-to-accept truth is that we must let our children and students fail. We do them a terrible disservice if we insulate them to the point of only experiencing success, for that type of success is not really theirs and is therefore hollow and empty of any of the real joy associated with one’s hard-earned achievement and success.


The concept of promoting or condoning failure might feel counter to what we usually think of as teachers. We’re all about encouraging excellent grades and achievement. A teacher standing before her students in class and saying, “It’s okay to fail,” might sound like fingernails on a chalkboard to some. But it shouldn’t.


We have to let our kids know that they should take risks. If success is within their easy grasp then there’s not much risk involved. They need to become adept at stretching themselves far outside of their comfort zones. They need to develop confidence in that uncomfortable sensation that comes with the stretch. They need to believe that if they fail we will be there, without judgement, to encourage them to try again and that we’ll respect them for taking the risk.


I recall so clearly a student of mine from ten years ago who dug his heels in and refused to write in his journal. It took several weeks of encouragement and reminders that he didn’t have to comply with any rules. The only thing he had to do was write down his thoughts and ignore all notions of things such as spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc. I reminded him that process pieces in the future would include those requirements but in journaling he was permitted to make mistakes…that they weren’t even considered mistakes - they were experiments. Finally he took a few shots at writing in his journal. When he discovered that I really meant what I said about deferring attention to mechanics, he found joy in writing. His writing took on life. Freed of the shackles of judgement, he was permitted to take academic risks. He was praised and encouraged to keep reaching for new heights in his writing journey. He came to love writing!


That love for writing would not have developed had every bit of writing been scrutinized and judged. That kind of fervor does not evolve in an environment of judgement nor within carefully-protected and highly-structured writing constraints.


In order to create an environment that nurtures resilience we need to foster some key tenets:

  1. Teach that hardship is just as temporary as ease; both will cycle again and again. Hardship is a normal part of life just as is ease, joy, sorrow, etc.

  2. Teach our students that we LEARN from failure/mistakes. Failure and making mistakes are part of life and should be expected. It’s our response to failure that matters.

  3. Encourage students to keep going. Keep swimming. Keep trying. Keep writing. Keep running. Keep keeping on.

  4. Always remind your students to stay aware of their “why”. We’re forgetful creatures and we need constant reminders of our own purposes.

  5. Glory is hard-earned! But often the effort leading there is forgotten. When a goal is achieved and celebrated, whether it’s yours or somebody else’s, remember that we usually only see the end result and all of the hard work leading up to that achievement is not visible but it is THE THING that got them there!


Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts. -Winston Churchill.

 © 2017 Teaching Troubled Hearts, Chaddock Quincy, IL