Curriculum Corner: Failing in Order to Succeed

In this week’s Curriculum Corner, Lower School Art Teacher, Sheila Ghidini, discusses why it is important to fail in order to succeed.
As parents and teachers, we want our boys to succeed. We want them to develop the skills for negotiating a path toward deep success. Recent studies suggest that this path is not necessarily paved by high academic achievement or a high I.Q. Research indicates that the character skills children develop in school and at home prove to be determinants of future happiness and achievement and are as important as academic intellect.

Learning in school can be fun, exhilarating, and gratifying, but there are times when it can be daunting, exhausting, and discouraging. School for a young child is filled with many pressures to do well and to succeed. But what does “to succeed” really mean? I feel that learning how to deal with failure can play a big part in defining what it means to succeed.

The struggle to pull oneself through a crisis, to come to terms on a deep level with one’s shortcomings, and to overcome those shortcomings forms what many call “grit.”  To possess grit, one must have failures. Experiencing failure is not something we wish on those we love, but ultimately failure helps one develop perseverance, resilience, and most importantly, an active mind.
The art studio at Cathedral School for Boys provides a safe environment that affords students opportunities for experimentation and problem-solving using studio materials. Here, failure becomes a likely occurrence as boys determine what it is they want to construct, paint, or draw to express themselves, or to solve a pre-determined problem.
Within the creative process, much like the scientific method, or the contemporary design-thinking model, there is a built-in stage of trial and error. As artists, we determine a way of creating things, and when that way does not work, an alternative route is taken that was not initially conceived. Granted, these studio experiences are small experiences, yet they help develop a growth mindset—a healthy attitude about “mistakes.”
In the art studio’s environment and within each project, boys learn that it’s okay to
fail. They learn how to reflect on the process and find ways to improve those choices they have made. These are valuable patterns of thinking, and I believe these patterns can carry over into other areas of the boys’ lives. Learning how to change plans midway through a project, letting go of old methods, and developing new methods are all part of the creative process and can often lead to improved and unexpected results. Failure, in fact, is often welcomed in the creative process because of the possibilities it can lead to. Boys begin to comprehend this notion during their studio time.
This is not to say that standards, techniques, and methods are not adhered to in the art studio. Teaching is never an "anything goes" situation. All creative activity has its boundaries and parameters; however, there is always the possibility of altering these to create a better result. There are many projects in the art curriculum in which failure is a positive thing. It serves the boys well when they develop an awareness of failure’s value.  
Failure is what careers are built upon. Thomas Edison failed over 1,000 times before producing the light bulb. Orville and Wilbur Wright had built numerous contraptions before one flying machine got off the ground for a sustained period. Success is tied to failure. I think basketball great Michael Jordan summed up the power of failure best when he said,
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career.  I’ve lost almost 300 games and 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” -Michael Jordan
Boys at Cathedral School are challenged daily in their studies and academic growth.  Fortunately, this environment is one of support and good will. With a good deal of work and a bit of trust, the boys have the potential to become leaders in the future, with an understanding of the importance of failure as they develop their paths.

If you have comments or questions about this week's Curriculum Corner, please contact Shelia Ghidini.

Cathedral School for Boys

1275 Sacramento Street, San Francisco, CA 94108 Main phone 415.771.6600 Fax 415.771.2547
Located in San Francisco, CA, Cathedral School for Boys is an independent elementary school for boys in grades K-8. Our mission is to provide an excellent education through intellectual inquiry and rigor that is centered in the Episcopal tradition and is respectful of and welcoming to people of all religious traditions and beliefs.