Fail First Mindset

I just finished reading a very thoughtful post by David Culberhouseabout how contemporary leaders have to dispense with trying to be everything to all people in their organizations. In schools, it’s much more productive for leaders to be “Lead Learners,” that is to be honest and imperfect rather than guarded and defensive.
Leaders who have the confidence in themselves and trust in their “fellow learners,” or the stakeholders in the school, to approach decision-making as a collaborative and constructive process have a much better chance of effecting a positive, respectful culture than leaders who try to be superman.
As the adults in the building, we need to let down our guards and embrace failure as a natural step in the learning process. Failure is what happens when you try something new. From our first experiences with failure, we reflect on our performance, we make adjustments to our practice, and we try again. If we keep trying, reflecting & adjusting as we go, we learn valuable lessons about resilience and perseverance. As educators, when we model how to approach failure, we create an environment that values grit and determination, both if which are very important life lessons.
I have recently accepted a position on an administrative team with a leader who has such an approach and that made my decision much easier.
When I reflect back on how I have developed the skills that will serve me in my new role of Assistant Principal, I note the role that failure played in my process. Once I made the decision to explore educational leadership as a shift in career, I went back to school and learned the traditional way, from experienced teachers in a graduate program. In that program, I learned a lot of content knowledge, but, happily, I did not fail. When I graduated from the program, I had then somewhat naive belief that I was prepared and ready to become a school administrator. Then I started looking for jobs. In the first year of finishing the Ed. Leadership program, I put out a dozen or so applications and got three interviews. I failed to get a job. So I continued in my role as teacher, I reflected, and found ways to gain new experiences. In the second year, I submitted a couple dozen applications, got eight interviews and was chosen as a finalist at two schools. Alas, I failed in both of those contests. I returned to my job in the classroom, and, as a result of taking a hard look at my performance, I made a few key adjustments to my practice. In particular, I committed to a PLN on Twitter and launched this blog in order to be a productive participant in the fields of Ed. Leadership and Ed. Tech. In this, the third year after finishing an advanced degree, I sent out a few dozen resumes, scored about a dozen interviews, and was named a finalist three times. In each of those three contests, I failed. Each failure hurt a little bit, but I did not allow failure to paralyze me or dampen my desire to continue on toward my goal. I got called to interview at a couple more schools, as the school year was winding down. I kept positive, kept focused, and presented myself honestly, not trying to hide my inexperience or my areas of growth. I made it into the final round at each school. In the end, I selected the school that felt like the best fit for me.
Failure might be uncomfortable. Failure in itself stinks. Failure makes us feel alone and adrift.
But failure can also be a very good teacher.
We just have to embrace being in need of instruction, being fallible, being a learner.

Photo Credit: Alex E. Proimos

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