Encouraging the Concept of “Failing Well” ~ A New Mindset

imgres“We choose to go to the moon,” the president said. “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too. “ 

                         President John F. Kennedy Rice University September 12, 1962
Click for video

When I think about the concept of failing well or fast failure, I recall this famous speech from President Kennedy foretelling the mission of the United States to expand the space program and dream big. It is a call to action.

In recent years, there is so much more “why?” than “why not?”  This cynicism has become an appeal for inaction. We have corralled children in classrooms keeping them prisoner to their desks and facts to memorize to succeed on the next test. We (not everyone, of course)  don’t encourage them to go outside, explore the world, ask questions and seek answers. I believe it takes courage as an administrator these days to encourage REAL hands-on learning from experience that can be tied to necessary standards, but may not be in direct alignment to them. Critical thinking comes from using your knowledge and applying it to something new.  Learning comes from tangible experience. There is a need for teachers to take a risk and encourage students to take risks as well.

It may be easier to dish out prefabricated lessons that appear to connect to experiential learning  Project Based Learning, STEM or STEAM, but these lessons only talk the talk instead of walking the walk.  Deeper learning is needed not a superficial nod to learning from experience.  The education world and the workforce world is all a buzz about STEM – a must! And it is, in my opinion, essential to prepare our students for the future. They must be STEM literate citizens.

So what does STEM include?  Learning from failure is one of the Engineering Habits of Mind. It is one of the best teachers, yet we don’t encourage students to fail. We encourage them to do what is needed to succeed. The subtext therein is not to fail.  It is important that we define the difference between these two concepts. To succeed you must fail. It is a stepping stone. Nowhere does it say one should do poorly in school to succeed. That for years, has defined failure and we need to update its context.


I have used Kennedy’s moon speech frequently to inspire students. We take advancements in technology for granted and often done by someone else-perhaps some “nerdy” young man in a hoodie. I rebel against this stereotype. We need innovators of all types and I pose this post as a call to action for all. DREAM BIG!

There is one thing of which I am certain–if you don’t dream and don’t try, it won’t happen.

Dare to Dream !  Fail, Learn and Create!

Click here for a prior blog post on failure.



Categories: STEM education

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