Educational leadership & learning

The stigma of failure

I had the pleasure of listening to Matthew Syed talk about the power of Growth Mindset and the importance of long term endeavour and sacrifice to genuinely grow and be successful. Within the unpicking of Growth Mindset he talked about failure and challenge being a natural part of learning. That learners need to be open to admitting mistakes and errors if they are to learn from them. That the nature and construction of high performance and how we conceptualise success need to be redefined within the understanding of years of specific high quality practice and engaging positively and openly with feedback. That a resilient institution is open about its failures and learns through the analysis of these mistakes.

Why then is our education system based on pupils achieving certain milestones by certain dates?

Many of our schools aim to see themselves as having a learning culture, but how many of these have some staff anxious about admitting weaknesses or problems with their practice?

Do we genuinely give staff the open culture and sufficient long term time to grow and develop to be successful and world class?

The stigma of failure needs to be replaced with the freedom, confidence and support to grow. To learn from failures but not to be defined by them.

Teachers are under pressure to move pupils on in their learning: daily, swiftly and at equal rates.

Headteachers are under pressure to improve, develop and transform staff and schools swiftly and at equal rates.

Parents, Local Authorities, Ofsted the DfE: what would their response be to the word failure? How would they define it? How would they perceive a teacher or headteacher bold enough to say we have failed at these specific three aspects, what we have learnt is the following and this is how we are planning to develop and improve at these aspects.

As a new Headteacher I am aim to work in partnership with my staff to help them and the school grow and develop. I celebrate their successes with them, I ask which aspects of practice they want to improve and the support they might like. With them we deconstruct learning and lessons and discuss central aspects of Teaching and learning. However I still have to make judgements on their practice and give feedback for improvement which is not always easy to accept.

I openly admit mistakes I make, talk about how what we have done collectively as a staff has moved me on or adapted my thinking. I try to model being a Growth Mindset learner, who has challenges to overcome and failures to learn from. However I know they still feel the pressure, and however open and professional they are in discussion, know that they hurt and struggle sometimes as human beings. Human beings passionate about their job, and keen to improve for the benefit of the children.

I am aware that I am asking them to improve quickly, whilst knowing they need time to understand and embed these improvements. I am aware that aspects of my role make it difficult for them to be truly open with me: think Performance Management and PRP. I  know that in a busy, complex and emotionally demanding job it can be difficult for them to respond to challenge positively. But I am aware of these feelings and responses and am trying to maintain a collaborative, supportive and open learning culture.

All Matthew Syed’s research and evidence shows that success happens when people have years of sustained high quality practice, motivated hard work and a desire to accept and learn from mistakes. If we want the same for our schools and staff maybe those in power need to take this longer term, more collaborative and intelligent approach.

Remove the stigma of failure and embrace the mindset of learning and long term growth.

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Comments on: "The stigma of failure" (4)

  1. I haven’t heard Matthew Syed speak, but really enjoyed reading his book. It’s admirable that you’re modelling what you want in this way and being mindful of the pressures on your staff. It will be interesting to hear how things develop in your school.
    Best wishes.

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  2. […] For my previous blog on some of Matthew Syed’s thinking please read https://timjumpclarke.wordpress.com/2015/03/26/the-stigma-of-failure/ […]

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