Are all other teachers perfect? Am I the only one making mistakes? Should I really be allowed to teach kids (let alone teach other teachers)? Some days, maybe a lot of days, I feel like everyone else has all their ducks in a row while mine are flapping about everywhere as though they were badly wounded. And some days I feel like a badly wounded duck. Some days my students act like they are badly wounded and I can’t get them back in a row. And now that my simile is breaking down horribly, let’s move on.
I know the title of this post refers specifically to blogging, but that’s only because the people reading this are bloggers, or at least online learners. In reality, most of what I have to say will relate to the dangers of not sharing our failures, no matter what form that sharing might take. This post was inspired by a recent conversation I had with another learning coach in my my district. I’m not sure how we got onto the topic at all because sharing failures isn’t something that happens too often, but I remember specifically stating, for some reason, that I felt I would be fired from this particular position next year. To my surprise, my colleague admitted that she had been feeling the same way. Now, we both knew that these feelings were unwarranted: We were specifically chosen for our position because we are qualified to hold them, and our administrators often confirm the job we are doing. But this is typically the case for most of us, isn’t it? We know we are qualified, even if we don’t feel qualified; we know we make a difference, even if we rarely see it; we know we are on the right track, even if we sometimes fall down. Yet we often feel alone in our failure. The way I see it, we need to share our failures, and failing to do so is dangerous for a few reasons.
1. Failing to share our failures leads to discouragement.
If individual teachers believe they are they only ones who struggle, it’s easy to become discouraged. It’s hard to look around yourself and think that everyone else is perfect because their stories are full of success and advice. This happens often on blogs, but also in our staff rooms and at conferences. Of course, it makes sense because we like telling stories with happy endings, and we like inspiring others. We feel insecure sharing mistakes, and I believe we think that sharing failures will lead to discouraging others. However, it is more discouraging to believe that we are the only one who fails. I wonder if this plays a big role in why stats are so high for teachers leaving the profession in their first five years teaching. Do they look around and feel they fail more than anyone else? My school, a K-12 with approximately 210 students, recently had 5 new teachers come to us. All are in their first few years of teaching. We only have 16 teachers in the school, including these 5, so they make up a significant percentage of our staff. These teachers have made such a huge positive difference in our school climate and we are lucky to have them, but there are certain times through the year when it’s noticeable that being a new teacher takes it’s toll. I’ve talked with these teachers and have heard the discouragement they feel from time to time, and it’s tough to hear them say that they can’t wait until they get more experienced and things get better. I remember thinking this. It hasn’t happened yet though. Things haven’t gotten better for me. I don’t think they do if we are continually pushing ourselves and if we refuse to become complacent. I still have trouble keeping up with my marking and planning. I still have lessons that go horribly wrong. I still can’t believe how I’ve let my kids down after learning something eye opening from someone else. But I rarely share these failures with others. I rarely let others know I’m not as perfect as I try to appear. And this failure to share is discouraging other teachers in my school. Going back to my conversation with the other learning coach, after we shared with each other, we both expressed a sense of relief that we were not the only ones feeling inadequate.
2. Failing to share our failures leads to not learning from our own mistakes.
When I feel that I’m the only one failing I tend to have one of a few reactions. If I can, I will quit. A few years ago I was interested in kayaking. I went out to the Grande Prairie kayaking club’s open night at the pool to get more involved. Now, I’d been out a bit before with my brother who was also a beginner, but in that pool I was surrounded by people who knew what they were doing. I’m pretty introverted, and it was a big risk for me to even show up there by myself. I felt out of place. I felt inadequate. I felt like the only one failing, so I left and didn’t go back. It was easier to quit than it was to face my mistakes and learn. Other times when I feel that I’m the only one failing, I will ignore my mistakes and focus on something I’m doing well. I don’t want to admit to myself that I’m not as good as others so it’s easier to forget my shortcomings. This doesn’t help me learn and grow though. Another common reaction when I feel like everyone else is perfect and I’m struggling is that I deflect fault. When I make excuses or blame others, however, I am refusing to accept responsibility for my mistakes and to learn from them. The opposite is true though when I realize that others struggle as well. I take responsibility for my failures, confront them head on, and persevere until I’m successful. Rather than feeling like I am inherently flawed, there’s a sense of challenge for me when I realize that things are difficult for others as well.
3. Failing to share our failures leads to others not learning from our mistakes.
This one is pretty straightforward, yet it should be a compelling reason to share our failures. A common question in education is “why reinvent the wheel?” One answer to this question is that often times we are left with no other choice. It is not good enough for us to simply share our success with others while ignoring the process of failures it took us to arrive there. IF I become a blogger who sticks with this practice and begin to share my success story with others and tell them they should be blogging as well, but I don’t mention the many failed attempts I made at blogging consistently and the reasons for those failures, then others who try to live up to my example will have to figure out solutions to these same problems. Some of these problems have included:
- not knowing what to blog about (failures would be a good suggestion, read what others write about and share your own opinion, successes, something you recently learned about . . .)
- not having time to blog (I cut back on my tv watching, I construct piecemeal using the Notes app on my phone when I have the time then pull it all together)
- not knowing how to get started (I talked to others to figure what blogging was, attended sessions about it, trial and LOTS OF ERROR, Googled answers to issues)
I’ve started and stopped blogging several times, due to the problems above. Sharing my “success” with blogging without the struggles I ‘ve had won’t help others learn from my mistakes. We need to share our failures, the steps to solve those failures, then the success we’ve had.
4. Failing to share our failures leads to not utilizing the assistance of others.
Again, this seems obvious, but how much bother could we save ourselves if we were willing to share our failures with others? I’ve told this to my students many times, “I can’t help you if I don’t know you have a problem.” (Let’s ignore my poor understanding of the fact that part of my job as a teacher is formative assessment and that I should know they have a problem.) Others can’t offer their assistance if they don’t know we are struggling. There is a wealth of knowledge out there and people who are willing to help us if they only knew we needed it.
5. Failing to share our failures leads to turning others off.
No one likes taking advice from a know-it-all. When we fail to share our failures we set ourselves up as perfect in the eyes of others, and the consequence of this is that others begin to resent us. We all know no one is perfect. We all know there are no easy answers. We all know. Therefore, people become suspicious and wary of us when we set ourselves up to be experts. Personally, I prefer to listen to speakers who humanize themselves rather than those who set themselves up as experts. It turns me off to be sitting in a session with someone who feels they are better than me (I know you are already, so help me learn rather than preaching at me). When people come to read our blogs, are they turned off by how we present our ideas, or do readers feel a sense of connection to other us as learners?
I believe we need to be more open to sharing all of our stories with each other, not just the successes. We need to come together as educators and create a community of learners rather than an expert vs. learner hierarchy. Failing to share our failures will lead to some dangerous consequences, but sharing our failures with one another will lead to all of us becoming better teachers for our students.