Thursday, September 6, 2012

Creating a Shield from Fear of Failure

I spent today with other directors of New Tech Network schools in the state of Indiana.  During our meeting one of the directors, Tom Warnicke of the School of Ideas, told a story about being in Cincinnati where the network was trying to raise money from some local CEOs.  During the meeting one of the CEOs stated that "“C” students change the world because we are willing to take a risk, “A” students are too concerned with failure to take a risk."  As I drove home I thought more and more about the quote.  I had instantly tweeted the quote out because it resinated so much with me, but why?  

It wasn't the idea that "C" students did better than "A" students in the real world.  While I was not an "A" student in high school, I was not a "C" student either.  I was an average student who did well in English, History and Science, but struggled in courses that involved math.  I did well enough to get into a good college (Valparaiso) but I was not interested, motivated, or mature enough academically to excel in more course work.  My academic awakening didn't come until I returned to school to become an educator and then later when I began to take graduate work at Ashland University in Ohio with some truly gifted educators who pushed me to be serious about my craft and my studies.  

After my first year at PHS one of our students who had graduated the year before and was attending a prestigious private college returned to visit the school.  Our principal Mr. Condon asked this student, who had finished in the top 10 of his class, what his one regret from high school was.  The student responded that he wished that he had pushed himself more academically, taken harder classes rather than protecting his GPA and class rank.  Maybe it was his story that appealed to me about the quote, the idea that we should encourage our most gifted students to stretch their boundaries and challenge their limits in school.  It was not that I wanted "C" students more than "A" students, but rather I wanted students at all levels to take more chances academically.

One of my goals for the school of Inquiry was to find a way for students to have failure in a nurturing environment so that they can learn to rebound and establish Grit.  I came to this conclusion after reading this article last year in the New York Times about several high profile schools in NYC.  The article spoke of how one of the keys to success is resiliency, the ability to get back up after falling down.  

This is not what the quote is speaking of though.  It is speaking about students being willing to take risks.  As I reflected more I thought about how I have taken risks lately.  There are three areas that quickly came to my mind where I have recently taken risks.

First on the golf course.  I am not, nor have I ever been a great golfer, but there was a time in my life when I could break 90 with some regularity.  That time has long since passed, but every once in a while I can get on a roll and approach that goal again.  It happened two weeks ago at Mystic Hills.  On the front side I felt strong, my drives were controlled, my irons felt great in my hands and my ball striking was crsip.  I was on a roll, until a storm began to roll in and we saw lightning near the front 9.  Not wanting to be a real life Caddyshack scene we started to head to the clubhouse.  When we reached the clubhouse the storm had begun to turn back south, but was still over the front 9, but the back 9 was cloudless and sunny, so we headed to hole number 10 to tee off.  

As I stood over the ball on 10 a sense of foreboding came over me.  You see I have never played well on the back side of Mystic in my life, having once shot a 60 on it.  I hit my first drive, watched it head on a line drive dead left for the driving range, hit a mound and stop after going only 100 yards.  I began to feel fear creeping in.  On every shot, except 2 on the par 3 12th hole, I had horrific swing thoughts and was convulsed by fear.  I ended up shooting over 50, losing a match that I was running away with on the front side, and having a miserable afternoon.  The only bright spot came when I holed a 25 foot putt for birdie on the par 5 15th hole, to put me at even in the match and give me confidence heading into the final three holes.  But on the par 3 17th with the match still tied and my opponent in the high grass I pulled my iron shot onto the highway running next to the course while trying to play the safe shot to the middle of the green and collapsed again.  On the front side, where I was confident I took any risk that came my way, as if I could not fail.  On the back where fear strangled my every stroke, I could not even play the safe shot correctly.

The second area is in my recent 4 fantasy football drafts.  In each draft I was able to draft, or have kept, high quality players early in the draft.  Because I had solid players at the key positions of quarterback, running back, and wide receiver I was willing to draft risky players who potential could have high rewards this year.  The key to drafting boldly was not confidence, but rather knowing that I was supported by the other players that I had already drafted.  My risks were back up players that could be great, but were not my only chance at winning.  Without the strong backing of other players, I would not have been able to make those moves.

Finally the School of Inquiry in and of itself is a risk.  While we have the backing and support of our community, our school corporation, and a nationwide network, there is no guarantee that we will be successful.  For a time fear of failing was paralyzing to me, it still is at times.  But as I watch my staff give everything they have to make our endeavor a succes and see students responding and growing I have come to realize that fear of failure is what will cause our failure.  

In 1933 Franklin D. Roosevelt said at his inauguration that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself-nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."  I have always admired this statement, because it was so true for the time in which he came into office.  I appreciate it more today because it is so relevant to what we are trying to do at Inquiry and what I want my students to become-adults who are willing to take risks to create a better world for all of us.  In order to succeed though I will need to learn from my experiences with fear; give them experiences that will build there confidence without over inflating it, support them so they can take chances without having it be an all or nothing proposition, and being brave in taking on the fears in my mind that can paralyze me.  Maybe then we can create a school that creates students who emulate those in the video below.

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