It's Alright to Fail

In 1972 tough guy Rosey Grier sang to American children (and their parents) that “It’s Alright to Cry” on the iconic 70’s album, Free to be You and Me.  The entire album – brainchild of Marlo Thomas -- was dedicated to a mission:  “What lessons or stories do you feel were missing from your childhood?”  Contributors included children at New York’s Little Red Schoolhouse.  I would like to see Rosey come back and do a sequel to his great song. He could call it “It’s Alright to Fail.” 


In a day and age where we are teaching our children that perfection is what matters -- on their report card, on their Instagram posts, and in their Photoshopped images -- is it any wonder that students do not feel that it is alright to fail?  I have heard students say, “failure is not an option” about sports, taking standardized tests, even experiments! Most don’t know, however, that they are quoting Jean Krantz, flight director of NASA, from the movie Apollo 13.  While it is a great Hollywood line, Mr. Krantz never actually said this.  In fact, NASA’s very success has come from its willingness to fail.

Our perfectionist culture is having a direct effect on the health and wellness of our students.  In 2016, the American College Health Association found that 62% of undergraduates reported  feeling “overwhelming anxiety.”  When incoming freshmen were asked in 2016 by the Higher Education Research Institute at U.C.L.A. if they “felt overwhelmed by all I had to do,” 41% said they did – twice the percentage who felt overwhelmed in 2010.


We should remind everyone that it’s okay to fail. As Einstein said, “anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”  Indeed, how can one learn if one does not fail? Every teacher and every successful company already knows this.  Take Elon Musk, who recently shared his company’s failures at SpaceX. Why?  He needed to educate his investors and the public that it was from these very (expensive) failures that they learned, improved and achieved. It was part of their story.

At trovvit we see this as well.  Educators who first started using trovvit in their classrooms saw students deleting or editing their older records.  When asked why, the students respond with answers like, “It wasn’t perfect so I wanted to take it down” or “I couldn’t do it then but now I can now so I deleted the old record.”  They had to be taught that this was part of their learning process.  Being able to look back at failures, learn from imperfect efforts, see competency evolve and grow, reinforces the abstract message that “it’s alright to fail.” The good news is that it didn’t take those students long to flip from only showing how perfect they were to telling their story with pride on how they got there.


Many K12 curricula already call for ‘reflection and review.’ However, with no tool to support consistent reflection and a concurrent emphasis on test scores, this requirement is often given mere lip service.  When grades and scores are given the greatest weight, learning as a practice suffers.  


Most educators I have spoken with believe this is a mistake. They point out that thoughtful review leads students to reflect on what they learned and how they learn.  The very act of review enables students to practice important writing and analytical skills and start taking ownership of their learning. In fact, taking ownership of and stewarding one’s own learning is the foundation for lifelong learning.

Today, with everything changing, ‘reflection and review’ is becoming increasingly important. Important for health, important for wellness, important for taking ownership of one’s learning, important for personalized learning and even important for getting into college.

People expect to see Photoshopped perfection on social media. That’s what it was designed for. trovvit was designed for social learning: a safe place to capture successes and failures and share them with the people who can help, and have a record of one’s evolution over time.

Imagine Rosey Greier’s gravelly voice promising, “It’s Alright to Fail.” So, go ahead, fail a little. Capture it with trovvit, reflect on it, laugh a little and learn. Then try again