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Coping with Failure

If you have a growth mindset, you know that failure is part of the learning process. That does not make it any easier to deal with, however. It is critical to not let setbacks impede your progress.

I cannot believe it took until my twelfth post to include a clip from a Rocky movie. Truth be told, this whole blog could have been crafted around the Sylvester Stallone (Rocky) franchise.

In this scene from Rocky Balboa, Rocky is speaking with his son, Milo Ventimiglia (Robert), outside his restaurant. Robert is upset that Rocky is taking a fight when he is clearly past his prime. However, Robert’s concern does not lie in the safety of his father, but rather how he will be perceived. While there is a lot to unpack from this scene, the most important takeaway is about about continuing on in spite of obstacles.

Rocky preaches, “But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.” Rocky knows that people will criticize his decision. They will not understand his choice to return to boxing. The easy path would be to remain retired, but Rocky believes there are some things he still needs to sort out…and Rocky does his best sorting out in the ring.

There is a lot for Rocky to overcome leading up to his fight: criticism, disrespect, taunting, humiliation, and fear. Life is what is going to “hit” Rocky, not his opponent. By “moving forward” through the adversity, Rocky is going to win, no matter what the outcome of the fight is.

Winning and losing in the classroom can take on a variety of forms. On a small scale, a single lesson can crash and burn. If you look much larger, maybe you were never able to reach a child that you knew was in desperate need of a positive relationship with a trusted adult.

Anyone who has taught has experienced the epiphany of an amazing lesson. Anyone who has taught has also experienced the pure misery of that magical lesson falling flat on its face. Sometimes what plays out in our heads is not what plays out in the classroom. But that is 100% normal and 100% okay. No risks means no rewards. To stifle creativity in fear of a lesson bombing is a disservice to students.

Relationships are at the heart of every great educator. Early in the school year teachers can pinpoint which students have never had the connection with an educator necessary to generate a love of learning. Great educators live and breathe this sort of challenge. They provide love, support, patience, time, an ear, effort, and energy to the student who may have never experienced any of it.

The dream is that ten years down the road that student is giving their valedictorian speech and reminisces about you and how their life was headed down one path and that all changed because of you. It is a marvelous thought. Unfortunately, it does not alway work out that way. Sometimes all the time and effort you spend trying to make a connection with a student does not pan out.

So what does that teacher do? Never go above the call of duty to reach a lost child? Play it safe because opening up can lead to pain? Absolutely not! It will not always work out the way you imagine. But it will never work out if you do not put in the effort to change the trajectory of the lives of your students. In order to make a difference, you have to take that risk.

For a principal, a lot rides on standardized test results. Scores are important. They show the areas where a school is growing and where a school is underperforming. So what do you do when a years worth of work results in less than ideal scores?

It is really easy to do the following: discount the scores, blame someone/something for the results, get angry, or even get depressed. Rocky would not consider any of these options. The best two things to do are to not shy away from the data and look for the areas to celebrate.

Staring at spreadsheets that display unanticipated results is a tough pill to swallow. But, when you take the time to look closely at the scores you will start to see patterns and make connections to what might have led to those results. It is when you choose to ignore poor scores that you miss out on understanding where you might have gone wrong. Fast-forwarding a year, without looking at the data, will give you zero confidence. But digging deeper and making alterations based on the results will have you feeling much more optimistic the next go round.

Lastly, nothing is ever all bad. There is a silver lining in even the most dire of test results. Look for the positive. Teachers will want their principal to be honest, but they need hope as well. Find the area(s) where the school made growth. Highlight what the teachers did that yielded those results. When people are recognized for the successes they create, they will desire that feeling again and again. So when you do share scores that were not so great, they will want to do everything in their power to turn the concern into an area of celebration for next year.

“You, me, or nobody is going to hit as hard as life.” The most important choice we make is the one when life knocks us down. Do we choose to give up, make an excuse, or look for a way out? No, we are educators, so we choose to “keep moving forward” and do everything in our power to better the lives of our students.

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