09/12/2020 - 14:41

Learning to fail

09/12/2020 - 14:41

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Scotch College is preparing boys for life by encouraging them to fail. “Failure can be a huge motivation and a rich source of learning,” Scotch College Headmaster Dr Alec O’Connell said.

Scotch College student at PSA Athletics Carnival, 2020, photograph: Thomas Campbell

Scotch College is preparing boys for life by encouraging them to fail.

“Failure can be a huge motivation and a rich source of learning,” Scotch College Headmaster Dr Alec O’Connell said.

“Teenagers are bombarded with unrealistic views of perfectionism. Social media has provided 24/7 access to celebrity influencers, sports stars and entrepreneurs all outwardly succeeding; this is creating a sense that if you’re not at the top of your game, you’re not good enough.

“We want our boys to understand that mistakes are normal, nobody is perfect and there cannot be success in the classroom or on the playing field, without perseverance, resilience and effort.”

In late 2020, the College implemented GRIT Week, standing for Growth Resides in Trying.

Instigated by Scotch College Psychologist Shauna Lipscombe, the week saw students attempt activities they were likely to fail, such as using their weaker hand to write or playing hockey with one arm. They shared their fears and failures with each other in mentor groups and were encouraged to see opportunities rather than barriers and learnings rather than failure.

“GRIT Week encouraged students to embrace failure and to develop a constructive mindset, thereby increasing resilience,” Scotch College Chaplain, Revd. Gary van Heerden said.

“Many success stories have occurred through great persistence, after setbacks and failures. Albert Einstein was told that he would never amount to anything. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team.”

During GRIT Week, students examined stories of past Scotch students, athletes, scientists and entrepreneurs who have worked incredibly hard to overcome an obstacle and find success in their endeavours.

Michael Jordan has spoken extensively about how resilience and perseverance made him one of the world’s most legendary basketballers of all time: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six 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.”

Thomas Edison, in response to a question about his faults, once said: “I have not failed 10,000 times – I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.”

Both examples highlight how failure is in fact, a prerequisite to success and a necessity in life.

Past student, Spencer Brooks understands the importance of resilience having grown up on a working farm, leaving for boarding school at the age of 12 and negotiating the challenges of Crohn’s disease while undertaking a new business venture. Mr Brooks says adversity and failure are great for building character and grit.

“A great example for me is when we lost Head of the River. We were the favourite crew to win, we were a great team, we had some fantastic rowers and yet, we lost. We came second,” he said.

“That was one of the best things to have happened to our 17-year-old egos because we grew as individuals.

“Putting effort into something and not having the result you desire can really make you think about life and the experiences or challenges we all have to face.”

‘Flearning’ (failing and learning) is an increasingly popular term used by entrepreneurs and educators. Its purpose is to brand failure with a positive spin and create a culture of risk-takers.

“The world is seeing a greater percentage of children with anxiety disorders and we believe this is partially due to a fear of failure,” Dr O’Connell said.

“We want our boys to embrace calculated risks and have a go, rather than playing it safe. If things don’t go to plan, we want them to be able to admit failure, examine what went wrong and look at how they can improve.

“In business, failure is a common occurrence. Creating something innovative takes time and effort. It is for this exact reason that many organisations around the world are embracing failure and using it to better their performance.”

Failure reports, otherwise known as failure post-mortems, have become common practice in many organisations. Engineers without Borders Australia uses failure reports to create a culture that encourages creativity and calculated risk-takers. They say the reports assist in providing their greatest opportunities to learn.

ETSY uses a blameless post-mortem practice. They believe that making mistakes is an inevitable by-product of doing innovative work.

“Along with parents, it is our responsibility as educators to allow students to experience the disappointment and frustration that comes from life’s inevitable imperfections,” Dr O’Connell said.

“From these failings, students will learn how to deal with disappointment, and they will grow to be successful, resilient and self-reliant adults.”

Scotch College is currently accepting enrolments and invites you to visit the College for a tour. Book your visit now at www.scotch.wa.edu.au.

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