Gift of Failure

I recently read The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey as part of a Twitter book club for educators. We would read a certain part of the book each week and then have a facilitated discussion via a Twitter chat.

The general idea of the book is that parents need to let their kids make their own mistakes in order to be successful adults.

Though it was aimed at parents, there were several things I took away as a teacher as well. Here are some quotes from the book that I found particularly enlightening:

Advice for parents

  • Children who aren’t allowed to fail are “less engaged, less enthusiastic about their education, less motivated, and ultimately less successful…”
  • “Over-parenting teaches kids that without our help, they will never be able to surmount challenges.”
  • “Offer guidance when the child is stuck, and seize the big learning moments, but otherwise hold your tongue.”
  • “Children as young as five can understand and accept the consequences of their actions (and in action), but only if they experience those consequences.”

The benefit of failure for students

  • “…research shows that smooth sailing isn’t where real, deep learning happens.”
  • “…the harder you have to work to retrieve and apply knowledge in a novel way, the more durably that knowledge will be encoded.”
  • “…it gets hard eventually, even the stuff you have talent for.”

Growth Mindset

  • “Kids who are praised for effort are more likely to have a growth mindset…”
  • “The kids who had been praised for their smarts tended to give up, whereas the kids who had been praised for their effort tried harder.”
  • “…the fixed-mindset kids did poorly. They could not bounce back from defeat…”
  • “Extrinsic rewards [like grades] undermine motivation and long-term learning.”

Social failure

  • “By a whopping 40%, peer play is significantly more predictive of academic success than standardized achievement tests.”
  • “…in our attempts to halt bullying before it ramps up into dangerous territory, teachers and parents tend to overreact to the normal social and emotional ups and downs of the adolescent social scene….”
  • “…making, keeping, and deciding when and how to part with friends is part of your child’s education.”

For Teachers

  • “…many of these fleeing educators cite “issues with parents” as one of the main reasons for abandoning the profession.”
  • “…parents who put a priority on saving kids from frustration and teachers who put a priority on challenging their students often butt heads, and consequently, the parent-teacher partnership has reached a breaking point.”
  • “I always found it terrible difficult to teach ninth graders, because the fear of standing out or making a mistake is a powerful force in their decision-making process.”
  • “Juniors [grade 11] were always my most anxiety-ridden and panicked student, because the pressure is on from the first day…”
  • “My students cannot possibly trust me completely when I am locked in battle with their parents.”
  • “Kids need the space to fail, and teachers need the time and benefit of the doubt to let that failure play out in the form of learning.”
  • “Begin with the common ground, the fact that both parent and teacher should truly care about the student…”

In summary

  • “In science, negative results are not failures, they are useful data.”

I think this would be an excellent book for both teachers and parents alike to challenge our failure-adverse society. I would love to see schools host a parent-teacher event based on this book at the beginning of each school year!



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