Teach100 Mentor: Should You Let Students Fail?

Teach100 Mentor: Should You Let Students Fail?

Though we all instinctively avoid it, failure is inevitable in life. That's why learning resilience and how to incorporate feedback is a key part of any child's education. Truly failing is also instructive in the understanding of consequences: not doing homework (or forgetting it) should mean getting a poor grade on that assignment. But the feedback loop (and a student's learning process) may be short circuited by a parent bringing in the forgotten assignment, or a teacher extending a deadline.

Of course, following through on rules and deadlines can be difficult for a teacher who doesn't enjoy seeing students struggle. No teacher, really, wants to see students frustrated or thwarted by bad decisions. And parents too, can find it difficult not to intervene when their child is failing.


Our mentors said they most often deal with this by making an effort to keep parents in the loop--even using tech, like classroom hashtags. Or by referring them to other sources of support, like school counselors.

We asked our Teach100 Mentors: what's your philosophy on failure? How do you cope with the fallout of it? How do you motivated students to keep trying in spite of setbacks?

Here's what they had to say:

What is your personal philosophy on helping students who are at the risk of failure? Does your policy changed based on your history with the student or their academic track record?


“The school policy is no extra credit at the last moment. I do offer extra credit throughout the school year. I track these and let parents (and students) know that they had these opportunities.” --Carissa Peck, mELTing Teacher

“Give them as many opportunities as they need till they find success. My policy does not change, sometime I find students don't make the most of their opportunities.” --Todd Bloch, Sweat to Inspire

“I'm all about teaching students to self-advocate because I teach seniors mostly. They need to understand the weight of their choices, but also know there are safety nets in place. Every child is treated as his/her situation calls for and sometimes the best thing to do is let them struggle.” --Starr Sackstein, StarrSackstein.com

“All Ss are treated as equal as possible. All Ss are offered the same opportunities -- no more, no less.” --Christopher J. Nesi, House of #EdTech Podcast
“It's not all about getting an A and I stress that from day one. Students rise to the challenge I set for them to not get A's but be better than they were the day before. They are only competing with themselves.” --Christopher J. Nesi, House of #EdTech Podcast 


“Find students doing something right, reward immediately.” --Rory Donaldson, Brainsarefun


“It is important to effectively communicate with the student, their parents, and your supervisor about any risks for failure.” --Jeffrey Bradbury, TeacherCast

“Students who are at the risk of failure need a comprehensive approach in which teacher, parents and the school aids work together to provide intensive and individualized instruction.” --Mrs. Lena, M.Ed., KidsRead


“I keep students informed of their grades throughout the marking period, but mostly I try to create a comfortable learning atmosphere in my classroom in which students are comfortable to ask questions (and to offer ideas) even when they struggle to understand the content.” --Peter Cincotta, What's So Good about Public Education in America?


“Failure should be relative to expectations, and not absolute. What I would consider failure from one student, might not be failure for another. So, taking account of the individual, where they have been (prior knowledge), and where they are going, we can assess if a student is succeeding or not. In cases where a student is not succeeding, I would not label it failure, but simply a state they need to learn from in order to improve. I no longer issue grades for most work, but rather focus on written comments and visual assessment guides (http://rossparker.org/visual-assessment-guide/), and as a result, failure has been redefined in my classroom.”--Ross Parker, rossparker.org

“It depends on the magnitude of the failure. Creating a system for each individual student to succeed is our professional responsibility--allowing the ebb and flow of dependence and independence resulting in small successes and failures provides input for academic growth and maturity. Each student is unique and requires expert involvement with family and school designed for them.” --Melanie Link Taylor, MzTeachuh


“My personal philosophy on helping students who are struggling in my class and at risk of failure is to resist the urge to bail them out. This policy does change based on my history with the student and their academic track record.” --Mike Lerchenfeldt, The Light Bulb

In what ways have you seen students benefit or learn from failure?


“In a lot of my students I see elements of learned helplessness. When they see that YES they can fail, and YES they can still succeed.... it helps them break out of the idea that they can't do something.”--Carissa Peck, mELTing Teacher

“Once students understand that there is a way to be successful, they are eager to try something else. All children are capable of success, it's just a matter of finding what works for each child.” --Starr Sackstein, StarrSackstein.com


“Failure is very much, as humans, our default state. Any time we succeed, it is almost certainly preceded by failure. If not, then we are probably not being challenged. The key is to assess formatively, so that failure is not the end result, but a step on the way to creating something of meaning.” --Ross Parker, rossparker.org

“I have seen students benefit or learn from failure by developing a growth mindset through using strategies such as problem-based learning, setting expectations higher than students' comfort zones, and encouraging students to take risks. Using these strategies in the classroom familiarizes students to failure.” --Mike Lerchenfeldt, The Light Bulb


“I have seen students learn from failure when they got a higher grade due to their effort. Seeing the relationship between effort and grades is the ultimate goal of learning and education.” --Mrs. Lena, M.Ed., KidsRead

“I always consider it a sort of "success" when a student concludes my class with a poor grade but understands that his/her effort affected this result as opposed to a negative relationship with me as the teacher. --Peter Cincotta,What's So Good about Public Education in America?


“When a student has confidence in future opportunities, a failure can just be view as more data for a later success.” --Melanie Link Taylor, MzTeachuh


“Failure only benefits a student if they are given an opportunity to succeed in same area after.” --Todd Bloch, Sweat to Inspire