Failure You Can Recover From

In my quest to get healthier in the past, I have tried taking on new challenges that force me to work out and do things I have not tried before. One of my friends was helping to put on a local sprint triathlon (500m swim, 15 mile bike ride, 5K run) and since I feel very confident in my biking abilities, have run a 5K recently; it felt like a challenge I could work towards.

Swimming was going to be the obstacle that I had to overcome since I am someone who spent most of their childhood on a lake, I had never swam anywhere near that distance in open water. I knew I would have to train and see how hard I could push myself, which meant going to the gym to swim as soon as I was signed up. Each lap of the pool was 25m, which meant I would have to do 20 laps in order to do the full distance. I made it a whole 2 laps before having to stand and take a breath, not a great sign.

I continued swimming when I could on the weekends, and continuing my other workouts but with about a month until the event, I knew I was going to fail in the swimming portion. I went online and switched my registration to the duathlon (little over a mile run, 15 mile bike, 5k run).

Failure is not something I am afraid of, I want to attempt challenging things in order to push myself to get better so it wasn’t the fear of failure that stopped me, but it was the outcome of that failure. Failure while doing a 500m open water swim meant that the fish were going to get something new to look at on bottom of the lake. It was a failure that I could not recover from. A failure while running or biking would just mean I would be walking; that was the worst case as far as I saw it. Failure while swimming was drowning, not something you easily come back from. I ended up switching to the duathlon (3K run, 15 mile bike ride, 5K run) which was still very challenging for me, but something that I could attempt success at within reason. I still struggled with this new challenge but in the end, I am able to look at how I could still improve and will attempt this challenge again. I survived to train for another day.

How I felt about failing while swimming is how many students feel about failure in school. When they fail an assignment or a test, how easily can they recover from that failure? Will they be able to still learn and get a grade that shows what they actually learned, or will their grade forever be drowned by that failure? Are we creating learning experiences that help our students to attempt new challenges and push themselves, but in a way that allows them to recover when they fail? Are we creating situations that will help every learner grow but in a way that challenges them?

And to be clear, rigor does not mean just more work, it means work that is not cognitively easy but is also meaningful. We need challenges that will engage our learners so that they are pushing themselves to new levels in a way to grow and learn. School should not be about sorting and ranking but a place that encourages and supports growth of all levels.

I plan on attempting the sprint triathlon someday, but that will be after I train a lot more. I want it to be something in my zone of proximal development, not something well outside of it. It needs to be something that I can reach with work and effort, not something that is outside of my reach and will lead to sinking.

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