“Failing Well
Failing Forward
John C Maxwell
Joseph Kanyi
New York Times

LETTERS: Emotionally strong learners won’t burn schools

It is second term. Students will soon be sitting their mock examinations. As has always been the case, there is an upsurge in the number of incidents of arson committed by the unprepared students. They fear failure. The learning system has not developed them to handle failure. They resort to arson and destruction to express their anger and dissatisfaction. A number of young culprits are now being held as criminal suspects and will soon face prosecution. We can only speculate what direction their lives could take if they are found culpable.Psychologists would explain that the disturbing incidents of arson point to learners who seem to lack adequate emotional resilience to handle anger, disappointment, loss, and other unpleasant events, including failure in their mock and final examinations.Emotional resilience is explained as the ability to handle and adapt to stressful situations. The terms grit and mettle have been used to refer to this competence. Emotionally resilient learners develop a strong character.

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They take control of their lives, and are able to overcome tough and frustrating situations. In this age of embracing the competency-based education, there are capacities that we can develop in our learners to enable them cope with the daily challenges that they experience in life. We can incorporate certain competencies in the learning activities to develop their emotional resilience. In the title, Failing Forward: Turning mistakes into stepping stones for success, John C Maxwell argues that the difference between average and above average performers is their perception of failure and their response to it. His message to the reader is simple: that personal growth is built on missteps and miscalculations, and that it is through failure that an individual grows and evolves. It seems that our schooling system does not prepare learners adequately to embrace failure as part of their success journey.Undoubtedly, throughout their school life, learners will experience stressful situations in their personal and academic life. For this reason, there is need to redefine failure, demystify it, and prepare these learners to respond constructively to setbacks in life.Demystifying failure is not a new or an exceptional thought. The phrase, “learning from failure,” is a common expression in our everyday conversations. The main problem is the way we process failure as a society. We are conditioned to interpret failure as a sign of inadequacy, personal weakness and lack of ambition. We are brought up to resist failure at all costs; which, of course, is unrealistic.We must, therefore, equip our learners to embrace the fact that there is wisdom in learning from failure.Experts in human behaviour rightly hold the opinion that if you find you are not making mistakes, then it means you are not trying hard enough. Thought leaders in education also argue that students who are prepared to handle failure develop grit. They tend to take more risks than those who strive for perfection.An article in the New York Times titled, On Campus, Failure is on the Syllabus, discusses a college called Smith in the USA that offers a formal programme called “Failing Well”. The author reports that the intention of the programme is to destigmatise failure. Learners are sensitised that if they are not prepared to fail, then, they are not prepared to learn, and subsequently succeed. Students who enroll in this programme are enabled to perceive failure in new light, and as part of the success journey.Upon completing the programme, they receive a certificate that grants them power and authority to take risks in projects, tests, and relationships among other initiatives in life.A story is told of how a donkey fell down into a well. The owner could not figure out how to retrieve it. He finally thought that the donkey was old and decided to bury it in the well. He started shoveling soil into the well. At first the donkey cried out in panic. And then, Alas! The animal discovered that he could easily step above the heap of soil. He went quiet and led the heartless owner to think that he was being buried.With every shovel of soil that hit the donkey, the animal would shake it off and step up. The donkey finally stepped out of the well and happily walked away. In the same way, we can sensitise our learners that life will always present them with challenges. The trick is to embrace every hurdle as an opportunity to begin again, this time more wisely.Dr Wanjiku wa Njoroge is an information professional, a curriculum interpreter and a stakeholder in the education sector.

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