Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Problem with Learning from our Failures

I recently watched the TED Talk "What Doctors Don't Know about the Drugs They Prescribe" given by Ben Goldacre. Goldrace speaks about how medical journals publish the studies that give positive results on the use of a medication, but previously never published the results of studies that found medications to be ineffective or even harmful.  His premise is that if the failed studies were published, they could save time on future studies and most importantly; save lives.

As I listened to his TED Talk, I made the connection to the education profession.  I read hundreds of blog posts/professional journal articles each month and a couple of professional books a month and love what I learn from them.  However, when I reflected on what I've read and what Goldacre is saying, I can't say that I've read much on peoples' failure in education to help us learn from their mistakes.  Why is this?  I read the book Mindset last year (and have blogged about it a couple of times) after the hype on this book from people in my Twitter PLN and have read numerous other blog posts talking about having a growth mindset and learning from failure, but can't think of any failures I've read about. (I do realize "failure" probably isn't the correct term to use, but will continue for this post with it meaning something that could have gone better...not that someone died or something was done illegally.)

As we blog about our professional lives and reflect on our experiences to grow from we do run the risk of breaking confidentiality or opening up too much in our blog posts.  Is that why I haven't read any posts on peoples' failures?  I can think of numerous failures I have had in situations with staff or parents that I could not blog about for this reason, however, I certainly did reflect on them to grow from.  But then I think about the mistakes other administrators have probably made that I could grow from too and learn mistakes to never make myself.

How can we reflect publicly on our failures to grow ourselves, while helping others learn from our mistakes, yet not get ourselves into trouble?


  1. Hi Jessica,
    This is a topic that's been on my mind. Sharing our reflections is risky, particularly when those reflections highlight weaknesses and failures. There are the stories from our work that we cannot share publicly because of confidentiality, concerns about the dignity of others, and ways in which these reflections might be misconstrued. I do believe it's important to supplement the public forum of blogging with private conversations among educators about the more difficult, painful, sensitive topics. Perhaps e-mail groups or google + hangouts with the understanding of confidentiality make sense for some conversations we either can't, or don't yet have the courage, to share more broadly.

  2. Dear Shira and Jessica,

    I was very excited to read this post and comment because this is a topic of great interest to me as well. I have been teaching for over ten years and I also have experience training other educators in the Early Childhood and Elementary Foreign Language Education field. As teachers we learn from our "mistakes" on a daily basis, but our ability to adjust and learn from our past failures only make us stronger. Collaboration and an open communication between teachers and administrators is essential in order to provide students with the best possible environment. I think that what Shira proposes about having a 'place' where educators can have private conversations about more difficult, painful, and sensitive topics is a great idea. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


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