Failing to Learn, Learning to Fail: Strategies to Create Empowered and Independent Learners


  • Lando Carter
  • Katie Schrodt
  • Bonnie Barksdale


It’s hard to learn if we never make mistakes. The error. The stumble. The near win. These are all powerful self-teachers. Experts, in fact, guide themselves down the error-filled road to mastery. Pierce Brown (2016), in the epilogue to his novel Morning Star, provides a profound axiom for his readers: “Everything grand is made from a series of ugly little moments . . . All the works of people you and I admire sit atop a foundation of failures” (p. 523). This is the mindset we lose too often in the K-12 classroom. However, the culture of speed and the need to cover content persists, even in the chaotic aftermath of the recent school years where students juggled the
uncertainties of in-person and remote learning. Many students navigated these experiences feeling like failures. Yet voices from inside and outside the education realm celebrate the same truth: failure is a key element of meaningful learning. As teachers, it is our responsibility to create learning environments that illustrate this truth in action. By using authentic examples from real-world innovators and creators, we send signals to our students that risks are the norm, uncertainty is an opportunity, and learning is not linear. When teachers surround students with proof that failure is a powerful learning tool, students will be more likely to start the unlearning
process and embrace failing to learn, learning to fail as a way to navigate themselves down new paths toward deeper learning.






Teacher Talk: Theory to Practice