Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Art Of Failing Vol. I

As an old proverb says - If at first you don't succeed, then bungee jumping is not for you. Failing is nothing that is part of the culture in which I grew up in and not in many others that I see. Failing is bad. The goal is to succeed. What is often overseen is that succeeding and failing are not mutually exclusive but rather two sides of the same coin. You can only succeed in two ways. Either by doing only one thing, that you've always done, or when trying something new, fail till you succeed. What is failing to learning and how can we include this knowledge in our classes?

A Fail A Day

A wise man once told me, "The best way to advance is to make a mistake a day". If you learn from each mistake, you learn a lot. It's in the nature of learning that you have to make mistakes. Trying out new things always creates possibilities of failure. If you failed you probably tried something new. This is something good and a key to learning! If your culture doesn't support mistakes, you will have a tougher time learning. So what we need to do as teachers is to encourage a culture, an art of failing and provide an environment in which this can happen.

Say It!

When I introduce a technique that is new to students what I see happening is that instead of trying out the new technique, students rather go with what they already know and will try to accomplish the moves or exercises with the old technique. This might prevent them from failing at this new technique, but also from learning it. So tell your students that it is ok to make mistakes. Tell them that prohibiting to make mistakes will prohibit them from trying new things and hence learning and improving. Hearing this from a person you trust should help. A good moment to tell them to do so, is when they are struggling with something new. Tell them that what they are doing is exactly what it needs to accomplish whatever you are trying to teach.

Support It!

Expect failure and learn to deal with it. No matter how well you prepare your classes students will fail. And this is good. If students always advance without ever failing, you probably never actually challenged them. It's a great feeling to fail at first and after some work on it succeed. It gives a feeling of accomplishment. Your job is to create an environment in which mistakes can happen, and then support your students in fixing the problem. Don't get me wrong, don't fix it for them but support fixing!

Live It!

A friend of mine told me he once saw the teacher (male) in class do a movement he hadn't seen him do before. So he asked how this can be turned into action. Instead of a response he got laughter from the other teacher, how ridiculous that would be to do. The result was that the male instructor didn't show the move for the rest of the class, too embarrassed to admit he had done a mistake or even just doing a variation that wasn't intended. Instead of making fun of mistakes, rather take them as opportunity to grow. Don't hide your mistakes, but give your students a realistic picture of what a good dancer is like. Teachers are also imperfect, we also fail. It might be difficult sometimes to see that as student, if the only things they ever see are performances and shows that have been rehearsed behind closed doors for hours. Hiding mistakes in classes will only contribute that students form the subconscious image of the perfect dancer.

Lose your fear of mistakes and if students know, feel and see that we make mistakes too, even need them to advance, and that the words "Try and it doesn't matter if you make a mistake" are not sheer words, but lived experience, hopefully they can reduce their fear of failing, try things out and become faster better dancers.

Read Part 2: The Art Of Success