Young people should be encouraged to regard failure as part of success, a leading educator believes.
Lance King, an education consultant who will be conducting workshops at ACG School Jakarta next month, says students who “fail well” become more resilient and do better at school and life.
He believes this equips them to better handle school bullying – and to avoid developing the kind of helplessness that can lead to suicide.
King, who for over 20 years has taught learning skills to students in 32 countries, will be working on student resilience at ACG School Jakarta, part of the international ACG Education group. ACG considers the issue one of the most important facing young people and it is a key part of the group’s skills program.
King says young people ought to get over their emotional attachment to the word failure: “We need to help our young people understand failure is just feedback and I think we need to redefine it simply as not reaching a goal.
“What failure is doing for you is giving you great information on what you aren’t doing right, yet,” he says. “Children who do what I call ‘fail well’, acknowledge their own failure, take responsibility for it, work out what they did wrong, make changes and have another go; learning to fail well, I think, is the first step in learning to become more resilient.”
“Suicide in young people is a great tragedy and a great shame and is a much bigger issue than resilience or failing well,” says King. “If a child does not have the benefit of protective factors in their life that develop resilience, like a caring family, at least one committed adult and positive peer relations, then they are more predisposed to helplessness, itself a primary contributor to teen suicide.”
King says bullying is often the consequence of peer pressure: “It will probably always occur and the way to deal with it is not to eliminate it, but to learn simple strategies of resilience, overcome it and gain strength from that.”
“If young people learned strategies of resilience when they needed it and learned how to cope well with failure, then they would be able to cope much better with some of the difficulties they will face in their lives.”
King says many young people only learn how to fail badly: “They react by blaming other people, pretending the result was not important, add drama to failures to avoid dealing with them or avoid activities that could result in failure.
“In all my work I have found two key things,” he says. “Those people who learn how to fail well and do better, and anyone can learn how to fail well.
“Teachers and parents need to help children understand failure is a necessary part of growth and learning. In schools the greatest challenge may well be to de-stigmatise the word failure and to create a classroom environment where children feel safe to fail.
“Only then will students be able to examine their own reactions to failure and practise building the skills of failing well.”
Shawn Hutchinson, principal at ACG School Jakarta, says resilience is covered as part of the school’s tutor program and is particularly important for students between years seven and ten when they are at a period of their lives where there is a lot of change and uncertainty.
“This is probably one of the most important things we do,” he says. “Historically schools have placed an emphasis on technology and curriculum, but ultimately we need to equip young people with skills they can use for the rest of their lives otherwise we risk ending up with people dependent on others to get by.”
Hutchinson says resilience is more than toughing it out: “It’s about learning from failure and developing resources and skills to recover from negative experiences, feelings, challenges and adversity.
“Young people are exposed to high expectations and a social environment that is increasingly distracting and sometimes threatening.
“This means we must help students to develop good social skills and self-confidence, the ability to ask for help and to understand personal boundaries – all built on strong emotional and physical resilience.”
Hutchinson says an important factor in building resilience is helping students to establish or maintain strong relationships with their parents, peers and people in the wider community.
“Goal-setting, planning, problem-solving, independence, assertiveness, perseverance and critical thinking skills are also crucial.”