Try It Tuesday: Celebrate Mistakes

Sometimes students are disengaged because they are afraid of "looking stupid" or of making mistakes. Given the choice between "failing" at something or just acting like you don't care--well, it's a lot easier on the ego if you pretend that you didn't want to do something anyway. 

In this week's Try It Tuesday, we explore some ideas for making mistakes and "failures" a more comfortable part of the learning process. Not only will students be more engaged, this will also improve their ability to think and act creativity. 

1. Start normalizing mistakes and failures as part of the learning process. 

One easy way we can start to normalize "mistakes" is to talk with students on a regular basis about how failure is a normal part of learning. For example:

  • Start a session on resume writing by showing students examples of "resume fails" so they can see common mistakes that people tend to make when they first start working on their resumes. Let students have fun finding the mistakes in the resume and use this as an opportunity to talk about how many people first make mistakes because they lack information about what it takes to create a quality resume.
  • Point out your own mistakes and what you learn from them to model how we can learn from small failures. 
  • Keep an eye out for news items where people have made mistakes and gone on to be successful. Use these to create a discussion with students. 

The idea here is to not just focus on success, but also to find ways to show how most successful people fail before they become successful--it's a natural part of the learning process.

2. Create a Fail Wall 

Dun and Bradstreet Credibility Corporation has set up a "Fail Wall," which began with a bunch of quotes from famous people about failure and the biggest failures made by the CEO. Over the course of two years, it has grown to include the failures and mistakes of the employees, some of their customers and even family members. 

You could do something similar with your students, engaging them in creating the wall and coming up with quotes, pictures and images that talk about failure. Then, invite people to add their failures to it over time. Make it fun and a conversation piece, something to be proud of, rather than to hide. 

3. Give out rewards for the biggest flops.

Inspired by the courage of the penguins that jump into unknown waters, late author Randi Pausch handed out stuffed penguins to the students who had the biggest flops, but had taken the biggest risks in doing so. You may not want to use stuffed penguins as the payoff, but you could use some of the incentives many of us provide in our programs to reward students who take big risks that end in failure.

4. Run a FailFaire

If you want to take failure to the next level, run a FailFaire. This is a get-together convened for people to really talk about their failures and what they've learned from them. 

There are a couple of ways you could do this. . . 

Rather than having a panel of adults come in to lecture students about how to be successful, invite a few people in to talk about their failures. It's enlightening for young people hear how "successful' people have also flopped and what they learned from that experience. 

You could also run a FailFaire with program graduates or even with current participating students, depending on the group with whom you're working. 

Make the FailFaire fun and celebratory and engage students in helping to plan for the event. 

Here are some helpful resources if you want to experiment with having a FailFaire.

Ultimately the idea here is to find ways to help young people (and ourselves, for that matter) become more willing to engage and take risks by normalizing mistakes and failures. The more comfortable we can get with our flops, the more we can learn to get us closer to our next success. 

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