Design Thinking & Innovation

Learning to Fail

In his book How Children Fail, John Holt writes, “A baby does not react to failure as an adult does, or even a five-year-old, because they have not yet been made to feel that failure is shame.” Failure, contrary to what education often emphasizes, is wonderfully liberating. This is not the failure that comes as a result of apathy or lack of care, which we heartily condemn. This is the failure of trying something, observing why it doesn’t work, and then having the opportunity to reflect on this and try again with some carefully chosen changes. Failure is a necessary component of innovation, so the way students understand failure is critically important. When properly applied, angst and doubt can be the powerful engines of momentum. When seen as conclusions, doubt is a dead end. When seen as a course correction, doubt allows the learner to fail forward. When failing forward, students learn to push ahead in spite of their feelings — to run toward doubt and not become so fixated on success that they miss the thrill of learning.

Design thinking and innovation give students a new identity, a new way of viewing themselves. Part of that identity includes the aspiration to solve problems and the mindset to feel confident. You can’t learn without failure. It is the expectation of failure that is so transformational about this whole process. It changes the learner and it changes their mindset. So at St. Andrew’s, Preschool through 12th grade, we encourage students to fail early, fail often and fail forward.