What We Can Learn from Failure

My name is Angel Rodriguez. I’m an educator with over 17 years of experience in early childhood education. I currently work as a Parent Instructional Support Coordinator for the largest school system in Georgia, specializing in brain-based learning. I’ve also served as a foster parent to children with severe physical, emotional, and mental disabilities. I’m a dad of four great kids. My two youngest were adopted through foster care and have Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). I’ve been inspired to study how we ALL can become better learners, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to share what I know with you.

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I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” (Thomas A. Edison

I’m a dad of four amazing kids. Each has climbed to amazing heights, yet each and every one has also stumbled and fallen. That’s life. There is nothing wrong with messing up. There is nothing wrong with coming up short. This is nothing wrong with flat out FAILURE! The hard part is that as a parent, you don’t want them to suffer through it, or do you? Actually, you want them to fall (although not ALL the time…and please no broken bones), because that is when your child will learn something invaluable…how to pick themselves back up!

We all want what is best for our kids, but few things can equip your child better than learning how to dust themselves off and get back on track. This is how the brain works. The analysis, countless comparisons, high level problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, the tough minded effort…it is how our brain ideally handles failure. Failure is nothing more than a learning opportunity. The problem is how we perceive failure. This is where spirits are crushed and effort dissolves into apathy.

So what can you do about it? First of all remember, no one knows your child as well as you do. Therefore, no one will ever be in a better position to help your child better than you can. That is critical, because sometimes parents sell themselves short. Never do that! You will always be your child’s first and most influential teacher, and this is a lesson that you will need to consistently deliver for many years to come. Your mission will be simple. Get your kids thinking about failure the way they should think about failure.

Failure hurts us when we perceive it in one of three ways, so guard against this at ALL costs. First off, failure hurts us when we think its permanent. There is nothing permanent about failure. You failed a test, study more and try again. Did you fall off your bike? Keep practicing. Did you gain some unwanted pounds? Eat right and exercise. The only way failure can become permanent is if you make it permanent. This is especially true in regards to the brain. Because of neuroplasticity (all it means is that the brain is moldable and malleable), you literally can’t stop your brain from learning. With time and effort you WILL learn more. It’s a fact. Can’t fight it. You just learned something new right now. HA! I dare you to unlearn it (causing head trauma to yourself is not allowed…that’s cheating). Don’t let your child believe failure is permanent.

Failure again hurts us when we perceive it as personal. I had a horrible time with math as a kid. I thought “I’m no good at math, but everyone else is great at it.” I convinced myself of it and I shut down. I should not have taken this failure personally. It wasn’t like math was hiding around the corner waiting to jump out and get me (There goes Cindy…no, Tom…no, Ben….no. Aha, there’s Angel! Time to POUNCE!). Now think of all the adults that carry this attitude with them. We do not wan’t our kids to feel as if they are going through something unconquerable unlike anything ever experienced, as if it’s only happened to them. Don’t let your kids think failure is personal.

Finally, do not let your young ones (or yourself) fall into the trap of letting failure become pervasive. It can be like an infection. Splinters hurt (I know…I’m a big baby when I get one)! My wife is merciless when removing splinters from my finger (I think she delights in it…I’m almost certain I’ve seen a twinkle in her eye). Yet, if we leave the splinter, an infection can occur causing far greater damage. Many people survive all types of physical trauma only to suffer worse at the hands of an infection. Failure is insidious in this same manner. Oh, you’re having trouble with fractions? You must not be good at algebra then, and if you’re bad at algebra, then college level math is going to be impossible. If you are having this kind of trouble, then you just must not be good at math period. Oh, you’re not good at math? Maybe you weren’t meant for school. If you’re not meant for school, you should just call it quits now and drop out. Did that sound ludacris? I’ve sadly seen it as an educator far too many times. Even more personally, that was MY story. I was the first person in my family to get a college education….I could have easily NOT been.

Now you know. Don’t let failure be perceived as permanent, personal, or pervasive. Model it yourselves, remind them always, and support them (not catch them) when (not if) they fall. I could quote many psychologists and experts in the field of neuroscience on this very topic, but instead, I’m going to close with the words of Vince Lombardi to hammer the point home.

It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.” (Vince Lombardi)


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Angel (from Wise Learners)
Educational Learning Website: http://www.wiselearners.com
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Here’s an interview with Angel Rodriguez:

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