Monday, 10 January 2011

Reveling in Failure: a response to our outcome driven world.

I had the idea for this post a month ago at which time I was going to call it: November: Month of Failure. Unfortunately I carried on failing long into December so I had to give it a broader title.

The background for this post is one of success. 2010 had been one of achievement after achievement (relatively speaking). Since the CCE Conference in February and Ewan Macintosh's Keynote I have re-invigorated my teaching career: blogging with more conviction; using Twitter to gain a network that has inspired and informed; and even gained a place on the UK Google Teacher Academy. Not to mention that I had also been appointed as deputy headteacher, even if only in an acting position, in my current school. Achievement in anybody's book. Yet little did I realise some of those things would conspire to cause me to fail as I approached Christmas 2010.

My failure
I suspect like many other teachers, I arrived at the Christmas break exhausted and somewhat disillusioned with my own abilities. So much of what I had started had fallen by the wayside. So much of what I had wanted to produce hadn't been produced. Exactly how did I fail? Like this:
  1. I had started Nanowrimo and failed to finish (I only wrote 7000 words, not the full 50000).
  2. The English group I teach had also started Nanowrimo and had to drastically reduce their targets (from between 5-10000 words to 2-4000 words)
  3. I started to grow a moustache for Movember, but I failed at about twenty days (I just became too irritated with the damn thing!) - it seems a little thing but all these things add up.
  4. I effectively stopped blogging, I wrote the odd post here and there but not with the same regularity as I had been previously. To me this is really important, because blogging is synonymous with reflective thinking, which is an important part of being a teacher.
  5. I became quite grumpy. This is because I realised I was failing at some things. It made me fail at more things. I don't know exactly how that affected my colleagues or the children I teach, but it must have.
  6. I marked work inconsistently - this is really bad for the children because they don't know what level of feedback to expect.
  7. I put on weight. Inevitable I suppose, but still not good.
  8. I didn't make it to church very much. Again - I'm not a very legalistic sort of person, but when you're supposed to be part of a community and you don't see the other members of the community very much, it's not really much of a community.
I'm sure there were other things too, but they how many things I failed as isn't the most important thing to the post. Dealing with the failure is.

How I dealt with the failure
There's something I call the rubber-band effect. Psychologists probably call it something else and the term 'Rubber Band effect' I'm sure means something else. For me it means returning to unhelpful addictions. Football Manager is probably my worst and it doesn't sound too bad does it. But when you've always got it on and you're playing it every spare minute and it's taking up your thinking time, it can be pretty bad. I've been very disciplined with Football Manager this year - only playing it for an hour or two every Sunday night with my friend Gordon. But November wasn't good. And nor was December. It was like the Football Manager rubber band had stretched and stretched and then pinged back with a resounding 'twang'. And of course when you've got your head in a computer game, it's difficult to get it into anything else.

Why I failed?
I guess you could say I failed because I played Football Manager too much, but there other reasons:
  1. I started too much. I should never have started NaNoWriMo - it was just too much for me at that time. Nor Movember as it turned out. If I had started less, I could have succeeded in more.
  2. I listened to the wrong people - it seems to be awards season in teaching at the moment. Loads of people giving each other awards and tweeting about it too. In my state of failure, it felt like I was missing out. I should have listened to Doug Belshaw earlier, but hey.
  3. I forgot the 'big picture' and 'who I am'. The 'big picture' is that failure is an important part of the education process. You can't do something, so you learn - you get better. You fail again, you learn - you get better still. If teachers can't demonstrate they fail, can't model how to deal with that to their students, how can students learn that failure is OK on the journey to success? Also 'who I am' isn't defined by how much I can write and whether I have any awards. It's about giving hope to children. I wrote about this back in October in my post 'Are you a hub or a connector?', but obviously by November I had started to forget it.
  4. I was distracted by the outcome. In education we've fallen into the trap of believing that everything should have an 'outcome.' Education is there to get jobs. Better Education gets better jobs. Teachers can be scored by how good their lessons are. Children can be tracked in every subject week by week. Now outcomes are important, but not when you strip past the process required to reach that outcome. In November I had just wanted to succeed at lots of things - I didn't care how. But it's important to care how. Because caring 'how you do something' makes it a repeatable process that other people can learn. It makes education real and meaningful. Revel in the failure - it's all part of the process of success.
How I intend to deal with failure in the future
(OK - so as you can see I've wallowed slightly.)
My intention is to wallow no longer. I will revel in my failure. I will use it as motivation to teach better maths and better English. I will remind myself that when students fail they probably feel the same thing.

Practically, this means:
  • continuing to blog, so I can reflect on what I do;
  • ignoring 'Awards' Talk on Twitter;
  • sharing the failure before it becomes big enough to wallow in;
  • limiting Football Manager play.

Failure - it's alright - enjoy it while it lasts...

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