For the longest time outside my door hung a sign that said, “failure is not an option.” This famous quote refers to the Apollo 13 mission and astronauts and it was a life-or-death situation. And for the longest time I believed this mission to be true for myself, for my school, and of course for public education. As a school leader it is easy to walk around with this mindset, absolutely believing everything that you do must be successful.
However, recently I've learned that sometimes leaders can model failure. Two recent events have led me to this reflection. The first event was when I took the Google level 1 certification test. I did not pass. This caused a large amount of reflection on my part. I had to really dive deeply into what I did not know. I assumed as an everyday user of Google and someone with pretty good testing skills that I could certainly pass a level 1 test. My first thought was “I wasted 3 hours” of Christmas break for this. I wanted to give up. But rather than give up I decided that I would study and learn the things that I didn't know. So this failure for me resulted in deep learning and at my second attempt I easily and successfully passed the test knowing more than I ever imagined that I could. So my question at this point was, “Should I be vulnerable enough to share this with my teachers and with people around me?” Since this was new territory for me I shared it with a few trusted people. Failure happens and it hurts, but we can learn from it and be better.
My next learning around failure came when I applied to be a Google Innovator. This is the “BIG SHOW” for technology experts, with only about 1500 people nationwide being innovators. I had what I thought was a really excellent idea. I poured my heart and soul into a slide deck, answering questions, and vision video. I assumed Google would love it. About four weeks later I received a communication that I was not successful on my application. At that point I wanted to give up. There may have been a few tears. But then something amazing happened. I found out I have a lot of people in my corner and they told me try again, just as we would tell any child in our schools. I reflected more deeply on what I was hoping for for my school and for education and reapplied. This project also caused me to reflect deeply as a leader and to make sure that anything that I asked of teachers is something that I'm willing to do myself. This became the heart and soul of my project:there was no way that I could be rejected. It was truly something that I believed in. I re-worked the vision deck, answered questions from the heart and made a new video. Then in October I received a congratulatory email from a Google Innovator Academy and I was on my way to Toronto becoming part of #TOR16
So can and should leaders share their failures? In my mind the answer is absolutely, but it does feel risky. For me these failures brought amazing people into my life including an amazing mentor. Teachers in my building know I failed, but can learn and re-try, exactly what we hope for our students and teachers.
The sign that now hangs outside my door says, “The Official Sponsor of Hard Work." And while I believe failure is not an option for public school sometimes it is an option for me as long as I “fail forward fast.”