Phipps Files

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Failure and Imagination November 16, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — sjphipps @ 5:36 PM
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“Nobody succeeds  beyond his or her wildest expectations unless he or she begins with some wild expectations.” – Ralph Charell

Today, in hopes of minimizing my favourites in twitter, I started watching some TedTalks on Education. The first one I watched was JK Rowling’s speech at a Harvard graduation. One of the main messages of her speech was failure. It seems weird to think that a speech that should deal with success in life has a main message of failure.

In education, we as educators, want the best for our students. We don’t want them to experience poverty, depression, or homelessness. We want them to be successful and have success. However, part of having success means we should experience  heartbreak, discontent, and failure. I try every day to explain to my students that failure or failing at something  is part of learning. We are expected to make mistakes. The learning comes into play if and when we try again in a different manner and succeed. It is also important to point out to students, and perhaps some adults, that there is a big difference between having a desire to succeed, which can be motivating, and a fear of failure, which can be paralyzing. Life and learning is about taking risks, knowing that there is a chance of failure.

The definition of failure (and that of success) will be different for everyone. Some may believe that divorce, unemployment, being a single parent, or poverty are all the ultimate examples of failure. And in these extreme cases, the light isn’t always at the end of the tunnel. Like Rowling points out, not everyone gets a fairytale ending. However, when we do fail at something it is important to learn.

Rowling suggests that from her failings she was able to strip away the inessential and stop pretending she was something she wasn’t. There are essential pieces to a person’s self-discovery. The next step is to free yourself from the constraints of other people’s expectations. A person needs to figure out what is important for their own happiness, well-being, and success. Rowling says one must direct his energy to what is important, realize his fears, and survive. This is how a person moves forward.

It is really important as teachers to convey to students that some failure is inevitable. In life it is impossible not to fail. Rowling suggests that we can’t actually live life fully without failure. Some suggestions she has for success in life is to have a strong will, maintain good relationships with others and gain knowledge.

“Personal happiness is knowing life is not a checklist of acquisition or achievement”- JK Rowling

I think this is a very important message to try to convey to students. Perhaps the hardest part is to convince  parents that their child’s success in school is not depicted by a report card?

At the end of her speech, she reminds everyone that we touch other people’s lives simply by existing. This is both a privilege and a burden. She encourages us to identify with the powerless. I think this is what a great educator does everyday. We try to speak up for the children and hopefully touch their lives in meaningful ways. Regardless of the struggles and hardships that we sometimes have as educators, I still feel blessed that I am able to do this job everyday.