The idea of celebrating failure is a bizarre one, but bear with me.
Schools put a lot of work into celebrating excellent practice, sharing great resources and holding high performing colleagues in high esteem, visible examples for the rest of the school to aspire to. This is essential to improving any school. Colleagues getting credit for excellent performance is vital to motivating all staff. It also provides for sharing of great ideas and rethinking approaches. But what might happen if we did the opposite and shared and celebrated our failure?
Much has been said about the power of allowing yourself to be vulnerable. In schools this is a truly terrifying concept. high stakes accountability driven by reduced budgets for progression means that teachers want to appear perfect at all times, to all people. The idea of sharing a failure is seemingly counter productive. Celebrating failure would seem career ending.
Imagine a scenario whereby teachers were encouraged to get together and share what hasn’t worked in their classroom. A T&L meet that didn’t focus on all the things you should be doing and focused on connecting and supporting others. A meeting where teachers can feel free to bring problems they want support with. A meeting where teachers can share ideas that they have tried and failed, so that others may be able to contribute to tweak and direct it towards success.
Teachers are leaving the profession in droves. It is widely recognised to be one of the most stressful professions there is. At one end we are struggling to get students to train, at the other end we are getting colleagues retiring early. In the middle we are struggling to meet demand. Non specialist teaching is increasing as schools try to cover gaps. These teachers may find their stress rising as they teach on unfamiliar grounds.
Sharing success, as stated before, is incredibly important. But sharing and celebrating failure allows us to connect with other teachers on a level that will help reduce our teacher guilt and shame. Because we all feel guilt for not doing enough for our students (even though we are doing everything we can). And when it goes wrong we feel we are the only ones who have ever made a mistake. Which is far from true! However in an environment where you only see the successes of your colleagues, it can be a very lonely place when things aren’t going your way.
Getting together in an environment managed by an empathetic, non-SLT colleague to talk about what hasn’t gone to plan is key to improving teacher wellbeing and inevitably retention. Colleagues can share experience and similar events and reduce the shame and guilt felt by colleagues. They can offer tips to help move an idea forward to success. Teachers need to hear how they can improve their own practice in a safe and non judgemental environment. This is far more beneficial than hearing about all the things you could be doing, when you feel unable to get it right day to day.
Some might be confused with the idea of celebrating failure. This is key. Teachers who have tried to be creative need to be celebrated. They need to feel their efforts are appreciated. They need to feel comfortable enough to share the failure so that others can help support them in making the situation better for the colleague and the students they teach. Teachers may not realise they are making interventions every day as they try to adapt to their students needs. When these subconcious changes don’t work, the teacher may feel even more hopeless. Highlighting the teachers are progressing through different interventions and are committed to their students when they feel they are letting them down is incredibly important. If you take a Maslow approach to this idea you can see that teachers need to feel comfortable in their own practice before they can step outside of their comfort zone and take on the new ideas that others are demonstrating.
The cost of stress and poor teacher wellbeing is huge. Taking a little time to get a group together to share and celebrate the endeavours of all teachers who try and sometimes fail is key to a healthy school driven towards improvement.