Today, I’m joined by Jennifer Mitchell, a second grade teacher at Three Trails Elementary in the Independence Public School District in MO. Jennifer recently posted a few images on Twitter of her “Failure Friday,” which I instantly fell in love with.
Language doesn’t just impact students via the page; it impacts them verbally in their day-to-day lives. “Failure Friday” helps to reinvent the word “failure,” taking the sting out of it, making it a process word rather than a final results word.
I wanted to know more, so Jennifer and I recently had a conversation about all things “Failure”!
HS: Where did the idea come from? How did the whole thing originate?
JM: I would like to take credit for coming up with the idea of Failure Friday, but it was one of my grade level partners [Cara Cahill] that came up with the concept. I think it was born out of a conversation trying to figure out how to get students to work on their growth mindset in a nonthreatening way. When she introduced the concept to our grade level team she had already tried it with her class.
HS: Tell us about some of the most memorable activities.
JM: One of my favorite activities was an art lesson from last year, all of the students created “Max” from the Secret Life of Pets. The drawings were so amazing that I went out that evening and bought 20 frames and framed all of them! When they came in the next day it was amazing to see the excitement on their faces. They were proudly displayed in my room for a couple of months and then I gave them to parents during conferences.
One of the most challenging Failure Friday activities was trying to stack 3 golf balls on top of each other— free standing. It could have been a frustrating activity, but instead students started using strategies that they saw were working for other students. They also became great “cheerleaders” for each other.
The students also loved the task of taking an index card and cutting it to make it large enough to fit your body through, the catch was that it had to remain attached.
Playing kickball with their non-dominant foot was also a crowd pleaser 🙂
(Once we started having students lead sessions those were probably the biggest hit though : ) ).
HS: You’ve indicated that one of the most exciting parts of Failure Friday is kids coming up with ideas themselves (karate, origami, making bookmarks). Have you noticed kids changing a bit as you do more with Failure Friday? Are they getting more receptive, braver, etc.?
JM: The answer is a BIG YES! Failure Friday has been such a powerful tool to help kids get out of their comfort zone and to feel safe to “fail.” Today was the 15th day of our school year and with only having two Failure Fridays so far I have been amazed at the connections they are making with Failure Friday and when things get hard academically.
I think before Failure Friday language and discussions of growth mindset students would have shut down when an assignment got hard. I think now they have to tools to not only advocate for themselves when things get hard, but they also have the language and understanding to support each other.
HS: I think it’s so important that the teachers participate. What’s the farthest out of your own comfort zone you’ve been on a FF?
JM: Hands down any of the Failure Friday activities that include art or drawing. As a teacher I wish with all of my heart I had been granted the talent of being artistic, but that wasn’t in the cards for me. I have explained to the students that drawing makes me feel uncomfortable and embarrassed sometimes— and how I wish I was more talented at it.
That leads to the conversation that if I never attempt drawing/art I will never get better— SOOOO I participate sharing my uneasiness at times. I think it is important for students to know that adults get nervous about things just like students!
HS: Has Failure Friday had an impact on your overall classroom dynamic? (And / or: Do you find that it’s had an impact on you? Do you find yourself trying new lesson plans or classroom activities? Do you even find yourself more willing to try new activities on your own, outside of the classroom?)
JM: Failure Friday has had an impact on the classroom dynamic positively, I feel like the students are more supportive of each other, have more empathy and feel more like a family/ community. It is no longer embarrassing to fail at something, we now have the tools and language to support others in helping them grow to get better.
I do think I have been more willing to try new things because of Failure Friday. Last year as a grade level we embraced the Cardboard Challenge— that is a whole other topic (LOL). I will say that it brought out such a creative side of our students! We also do a lot more STEM activities as a grade level which lead very nicely into Failure Friday ideas/ challenges too. The good news is that we are in a school that supports the teachers trying new things with our students and they also promote things like FF.
Failure Friday has changed my mindset as an adult, and I do believe I am more willing to try new things. I feel like if I ask my students to have a growth mindset I need to have one too. I think I was the student that was shy and embarrassed to try new things when I was in elementary school and I think feeling supported to try new things would have helped me get out of my comfort zone a little earlier than I probably did. By nature I tend not to be a risk taker and I need someone and or the mindset to push me sometimes. I think kids have the false notion they have to be good/ perfect at things the first thing they try them and I want my students to know that isn’t reality.
HS: Do you have any tips for teachers looking to implement a Failure Friday?
JM: I think just building the background knowledge of growth mindset and making sure students are truly understanding what “Failure Friday” means. I also think explaining it to parents helps too so they can support the concept. For me the parent support has been amazing!
HS: How would you like to see your Failure Friday grow or change?
JM: I would like to have more of my students involved in leading sessions this year. It was amazing to see how empowered students were to share the skills they are good at with other students last year. Some of my most introverted students can become extroverts when they are able to share something they are successful at.
It also helps you as the teacher get to know your students strengths/ interests outside of school. This year I have already talked to one of my students about leading a session in sign language, I can’t wait for her to be able to teach me!
You can keep up with Jennifer Mitchell (and the rest of the Three Trails #dreamteam, who all participate in Failure Friday!) and get in on the Failure Friday chat via Twitter: @jenmitchell3TE