Administrators, do you want to unlock the true potential of your staff? Do you want them to blow you away with the amazing quality of their work? Then I have a simple solution for you:
Give them permission to fail.
Three years ago, when I was interviewing for my current job, the one thing I insisted that I was looking for was a set of administrators who would allow me to fail. I knew even then that if I were in a an environment where failure would be tolerated to some degree, I wouldn’t just succeed, I would thrive.
Three years later, here I am. I have had some stumbles along the way. I’ve made mistakes and the kids have made plenty as well under my watch. But as I sit here now for the second time in my career just mere days away from obtaining tenure, I can tell you right now that I have grown more as a teacher in the past three years than I did in the previous seven.
That’s not to say that I go looking to fail. That would be ridiculous. But I’m not going to let a chance that something will fail stop me from trying something exciting.
One of my favorite things about my current principal is how he actively encourages our teachers to try new things. When a teacher has an idea for some way of teaching a unit that’s a bit outside of the box, he is perfectly willing to trust them as professionals to try it, assess how it’s working, and adjust if needed.
That’s what giving your teachers permission to fail is really all about. Do you trust your teachers to do the right thing by their students? If you do, then get out of their way.
Now, especially with all these crazy new evaluation systems coming down the pipeline, many teachers may not try to rock the boat. This is where you come in. You need to give them permission to fail. Whether working with teachers or students, I find that many people need to explicitly be told that it’s ok to try something and not have it succeed. Treat failure as a part of the learning experience, not an embarrassing end of the learning journey.
So why permission to fail? Because it frees people. In a school or classroom where nobody has the ability to fail, you end up with stuff that might end up being good. But it’s a uniform, everything’s cookie-cutter sort of good.
You will never end up with great, though.
Great needs room to breathe.
Great needs to always push the envelope.
Great needs to try new things, see if they work, then tinker with them until they do.
Great needs permission to fail.
I aspire to greatness.