Failure is not an Option

The team leaders on my campus have recently begun a book study over Alan M. Blankstein’s Failure is Not an Option.  We are only in chapter 3 at the moment, but I am enjoying it so far.  I especially like Chapter 2 entitled Courageous Leadership for School Success which basically discusses the importance of having and acting with courage in education.  Here are some of my favorite quotes from Chapter 2 – 

“They [educators being discussed] do what they have to do because of who they are and what they value.” – This is a rather vague quote and certainly better understood in the context of the chapter, but I like this idea although it is certainly not always the easiest thing to do.  Following the crowd is certainly easier, but in the end I would rather have a clean conscience and be able to live with my actions than make others happy. 

“In education, a growing body of research indicates that the belief system of teachers heavily influences their students’ possibilities of success.  In short, ‘Positive expectations yield positive results.’” This is basically the self-fulfilling prophecy… Students will rise to the level of expectation you set for them provided you provide the support and guidance they need. 

“Despite the current focus on testing and standards, educators need more than incremental gains on their students’ test scores to establish a motivating connection to their work.  Similarly, students need to see the relevance of schoolwork in their lives.” I like how this guy thinks! J 

Chapter 2 also encourages reflection by educators and my principal ask that each team leader take the following five questions back to his/her team and have each team member answer them and then discuss.  So, here goes… 

1. Why did I become a teacher?  I would like to say that it is always what I wanted to be and I felt a calling, but that is not entirely accurate.  While growing up, I always thought I would be either an environmental lawyer or a marine biologist.  As I got a little older, I dropped the idea of the marine biologist, but I still dreamed of being an environmental lawyer… until I learned what lawyers really do and then I decided that it wasn’t for me.   

As I entered college I reflected on what career would make me happy and teaching just seemed to be a natural fit.  I have always been an avid reader, and I have always enjoyed writing.  English has always been my favorite and best subject in school, and I like kids and do well with them.  In fact, when I entered college, the only jobs I had ever had revolved around children – assistant manager of a daycare, babysitter, nanny and after school enrichment teacher.  So, I decided… why not become a teacher?  And although I struggle at times with the politics of education, I can’t see myself doing anything else. 

2. What do I stand for as an educator?  Hmmm… this is a difficult one.  I would like to think that I stand for doing whatever is best for the student – making the curriculum relevant, teaching students to think for themselves and do what is right, encouraging them to creatively and out-of-the-box, helping them develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills, teaching them perseverance even when something is tough, etc. 

I would like to think I stand for making the “right” choices for my students even if they are not always the easiest and the most popular. 

3. What are the gifts I bring to my work? Obviously, there are too many to mention. J  

Seriously though, I think one of the most important gifts I bring to my job is the ability to relate to students and build good relationships with them.  I have found that developing a solid relationship with students makes the rest of the job so much easier and more effective. 

4. What do I want my legacy as a teacher to be?  I am not sure if it is a legacy exactly, but when I retire I would like to have helped some students find their place in the world as literate, hard-working, respectful and honorable citizens.  If they remember some literature and sentence structure that would be great too. J

5. What can I do to keep track of myself – to remember my own heart?  I don’t really like the way this question is worded… it is a little too cheesy sounding for me, but I will give it a shot. 

It may sound a little trite, but one of the things that helps keep me sane is reflecting about what I am doing, how I can improve and focusing on my continual growth.  Currently, I do a majority of this on my blog by writing about what is going on around me and occasionally venting about my frustrations.  I also use the others in the field of educational blogging to help keep me abreast of what is happening in other parts of the world in regards to educational technology.  It is a great way for me to develop professionally (and I can do it while sitting on my couch). 

Well, there it is – my answers to the questions and my thoughts on Chapter 2.  Perhaps I will post my thoughts on some upcoming chapters as well… 

Explore posts in the same categories: Alan M. Blankstein, Books, Education, Professional Development, Reading, reflection

4 Comments on “Failure is not an Option”

  1. inel Says:

    Good for you for concentrating on good relationships!

    The title of this book and program—Failure Is Not an Option TM—trademarked by The HOPE Foundation scares me, as it can easily be misconstrued to deny children the chance of making any mistakes out of a misguided fear of failure.

    It is only through having the courage to fail, and the experience of making mistakes, in a supportive environment, followed by having the encouragement, ability, and desire to learn from one’s mistakes, that one can improve and be creative.

    If you are studying that book, I hope you have all seen this brilliant 20-minute video from the February 2006 TED Conference in Monterey too:

    Sir Ken Robinson seeks to redefine success (which consequently redefines what is meant by a failure). His approach is fundamentally different from denying failure the way it is defined by schools (or should I say governments?) today, and makes much more sense for our post-industrial society.

  2. Thanks for the comment!

    I can’t say that I have seen this particular video (although I love TED Blog). I will give it a watch.

    Thanks again 🙂

  3. James O'Keeffe Says:

    Just what teachers everywhere should be doing more of: writing vision statements and mission statements.

    The Professional Learning Communities movement is the latest educratic fad to be dumped on the already overburdened shoulders of American teachers, and as with every fad before it, the gurus touting PLC rely on the old advertiser’s trick of distancing their product from all its previous incarnations: “Sure, you’ve seen this all before, but now it’s NEW and IMPROVED!” Or, as Blankstein puts it in pseudo-academic fashion: “Parker Palmer (1998) indicates that most professional development (and books like this) answer the “what” or “how” questions.…This book answers those questions in detail. In addition, we address the two questions often ignored, yet crucial to success: Why am I doing this, and who do I need to be to succeed?” Putting aside the thinly disguised arrogance of attempting to tell American teachers whom they should be and what they should believe, this statement presumes that a dozen other progressive education reformers such as John Dewey, B.F. Skinner, and William Glasser never wrote “books like this” making similar appeals “in detail,” and that every proponent of every education gimmick before now did not also claim to have the solution—multiple intelligences, outcome-based education, cooperative learning, problem-based learning, brain-based learning, connective math, whole language, and dozens of other hotly promoted “research-based” contrivances. Could it be that our well-intentioned friends at the HOPE Foundation are on to something none of us ever thought of before? Golly, what are the odds?

    Consider the book’s title, which is taken from a false analogy involving the infamous Apollo 13 lunar mission. Blankstein likens teachers to Mission Control and our students to James Lovell and his crew, off-course and facing utter disaster. He conveniently ignores the fact that it was the very reality of failure and its consequences (certain death) that motivated both Lovell and his team; nothing Gene Kranz and Mission Control did or said would have made any difference without the cooperation of Apollo’s crew. Today’s students have been so protected from themselves by coddling parents, shallow curriculum, and reduced standards that they are blissfully unaware of the danger they face as incompetent and illiterate adults. They’ve never been made to experience the consequences of failure and thus have nothing but contempt for our warnings and our repeated attempts to motivate them. Imagine if after Kranz and his ground team radioed Apollo 13 with their instructions to save the dying spacecraft and its men—instructions which they had worked feverishly and round the clock to produce at great cost to their own health, safety, and comfort—the Apollo had radioed back with answers like “But why do we have to work so hard?” or ”This is boring. We don’t feel like doing it,” or “Our parents are going to sue you!” If Blankstein and others who share his FINO™ philosophy get their way, this is exactly what future generations of American astronauts will be like.

    Consider, too, the trademark symbol (™) that follows the title, indicating that it is a commercial property. One can only wonder why a nonprofit group would feel the need to trademark its ideas, unless, of course, it intends to maintain an exclusive franchise. The list price for the paperback edition of Failure Is Not an Option™, according to the HOPE Foundation web site, is $32.95—more than double the average list price of $15.77 for an adult trade paperback in 2002 (The Write News, June 6, 2003). How many school districts, itching to appear progressive and cutting-edge, have bought into this latest ruse from the Olympian pinnacles of the educrat aristocracy? At $32.95 apiece, assuming every teacher and administrator at an average-sized urban district were given a copy, and not taking into account any bulk-purchase discounts, then said district will have spent approximately $100,000 on FINO™, enough to purchase a state-of-the-art computer lab or buy a personal copy of Moby Dick for every high-school junior in the district (not that they’d read it in today’s culture of text-message literacy). Assuming a 50% bulk discount, which is unlikely and would still leave the purchase amount above the normal market price for books of its kind, then the district will have wasted about $50,000—at least one teacher’s salary.

    Here’s a new paradigm, everyone: return to substantive teaching and learning, value teachers for their expertise in the subjects or grade-levels they teach; leave psychology to the psychologists, motivation to the counselors, and social problems to the social workers. Take curricular and monetary power away from principals and superintendents and give it to campus department heads. Send every midlevel “facilitator,” “leader,” and “coordinator” back to the classroom and force them to teach again. Slash the salaries of these puffed-up politicos and distribute the remainder to the teachers. Define “failure” as any student who reaches the 12th grade without mastering the things they should’ve mastered as competent and literate adults; distinguish between those who can’t learn and those who won’t learn (you’ll find the vast majority of unsuccessful students belong in the latter category), and subject them to the pressure of failing grades and lost privileges until they earn their way up. Let them experience failure in school before they experience it in the real world, where the consequences will be far more disastrous for us all.

    None of this will ever happen, of course. For one thing, it’s too harsh and politically incorrect, and for another, it’d put the gurus-and-gimmicks crowd which Blankstein and his organization represent out of business. The vast and swelling industry of education consultants, with their junk books and videos and their insulting, overpriced “professional development seminars,” are the real winners every time a new silver-bullet scheme like Professional Learning Communities gets minted and shipped out. They’re parasites on the nation’s schools; they don’t exist to support us, as they so smugly claim…we exist to support them. No matter that many of these groups and individuals operate under the imprimatur of 501(c)3 nonprofit organization status; while most nonprofits pay relatively low salaries to their employees, executive-level salaries are often in the six-figure range (The median salary for chief executive officers at nonprofit organizations with annual budgets of $25 million or more was about $176,800 in 2002, according to the Congressional Budget Office). Furthermore, it’s unclear what, if any, restrictions apply to people like Blankstein regarding book royalties, consulting fees, etc.

    So go on, you superintendents and principals. Go on, you intellectually shallow educrats. Buy up copies of FINO in bulk at the public’s expense and force it down the throats of your school faculties. Take away the precious time your teachers could’ve spent planning lessons, grading, calling parents, and improving their own competence (in subject matter, not pedagogy), and force them to use it having meetings about meetings, discussing insipid acronyms like CLI (Courageous Leadership Imperative) and HRO’s (Highly Reliable Organizations), constructing pie-charts and pyramids, and generally acting like the kind of mindless “interdependent” cooperative learning groups to which you’d like us to reduce our students. Some of us SRT’s (Self-Respecting Teachers) aren’t falling for it, and we never will.

    In the words of PT Barnum: This Way to the Egress…

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