Preparing Pupils for Failure

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Steven Robertson

Steven writes for the Teacher Toolkit site from a primary perspective. He is a primary school teacher in a catholic primary school in Runcorn. Although currently in key stage 1, he has experience teaching across a variety of year groups and has previously taught in...
Read more about Steven Robertson

If failure isn’t accepted as an integral part of the learning process, how will young people succeed beyond the classroom walls? 

Success breeds success …

In a system of increasing accountability and high-stakes testing, it feels as though pupils move from one success to another, make good progress and achieve strong outcomes. In such a system, encouraging pupils to take risks and designing opportunities for intellectual challenge is essential if your pupils are to be provided with the opportunity to achieve their maximum potential.

However, such practice will inevitably lead to instances where pupils do encounter failure; so what skills do your pupils have at their disposal to cope with failure and use it as an impetus to improve?

In recent years there seems to be an accepted fallacy that learning happens in a linear fashion, with educators setting up opportunities for children to jump from success to success without ever encountering failure. However, if this is the case, to what extent are your pupils simply working as opposed to learning?

Incorporating failure in the learning process

The question that arises in the domain of high-stakes education is how prepared are your pupils to embrace and accept failure? Such attitudes are rarely naturally evident, and it falls to you to ensure that failure is not only acceptable, but also to be encouraged in your classroom.

When pupils know that failure is an acceptable outcome they will also feel safe to take risks, and it is through risk-taking that the richest educational outcomes are achieved. And this is not just defined by a test score.

To assist this process, consider if the following is in practice in your classroom:

  • Provide the children with the toolkit to cope with failure.
  • Praise the children’s best efforts and show them how to move their learning forward.
  • Develop an ethos where the children are not afraid to fail and develop strategies to overcome challenge.
  • Don’t hide mistakes from children. Adults make mistakes all the time, but children seldom are afforded the opportunity of witnessing this.
  • Make teaching points of your mistakes and model how to deal appropriately with failure.
  • Pupils should have the confidence to attempt new activities in a safe and secure environment knowing that failure will be met with encouragement and support. Failure isn’t something to be feared, but rather is part of the learning process which should be embraced.
  • Children need to know that it is okay to fail and it is the trying again that is important, this is how children succeed.

shutterstock_302477609 Boy fell from the bike in a park

Image: Shutterstock

Failing is learning

Incorporating failure as an acceptable aspect of the learning process in your classroom will create an environment which supports the development of high achievement and will help pupils develop the skills needed to succeed, rather than acquiring the knowledge needed to pass an exam. Most pupils see failure as the antithesis of learning. It is our job to ensure that they identify its place in the learning process; failing is learning,

Teacher Toolkit believes ‘failure is the only way to grow’.

If we are given two choices always choose the hardest, because by choosing the more difficult path, you will always be learning.

Steven Robertson writes for Teacher Toolkit. You can read more of his articles here.


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