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Rethinking Failure

FAILURE = “First Attempt In Learning Until Realizing Excellence.”

Most people who know me well will tell you that I’m pretty driven. I’ve opened three non-traditional schools, I’ve taught in Texas public schools and overseas, I’m a mom, and I have three university degrees. I love a challenge, and like many people who value achievement, I’m most satisfied when I am making a difference and things are getting accomplished.

I know how to weather setbacks; however, it wasn’t a skill I developed overnight. Growing up as the youngest of four children, I always felt I needed to prove myself, whether it was winning at board games, being the wittiest over family dinner, or making the best grades. A failure would reflect poorly on me, I thought, and set me back. As an educator, I see many young people who view failure the same way.

“Failure” is a harsh word, one that’s full of less-than-positive connotations. It’s not surprising that people don’t associate the idea of failure with any kind of benefit. It’s also not surprising that many parents will do just about anything to shield their children from the disappointment and frustration that comes with failure. After all, who likes to watch a young person struggle or suffer?

But the fact is, we do our kids a disservice when we don’t allow them to experience failure. Here’s why:

Dealing with failure is an essential life skill.

Failure is an inevitable part of life. Whether you aspire to be an insurance agent or an Olympic gymnast, the ability to recover from setbacks is a trait that separates those who are successful from those who are not.

In other words, the inability to deal with failure is what stops people from realizing their dreams, not failure itself. "Failure happens all the time,” world champion soccer player Mia Hamm once observed. “What makes you better is how you react to it.”

Failure leads to learning.

A poor grade on a test or project can indeed be an unpleasant experience for a student who typically does well in school. But once the shock wears off, that student has the opportunity to learn these valuable life lessons:

  • Flexibility: When you want to change your outcomes, you have to change your preparation.

  • Determination: In some situations, you have to work a little bit harder to get the job done.

  • Survival: Things don’t always go our way. It hurts when it happens, but it doesn’t kill you.

  • Perseverance: Never give up.

Failure leads to growth.

Whether failure results from a bad decision or bad luck, the student who decides that he isn’t going to let a setback get the better of him is one who is mature enough to take ownership of the matter.

Rather than waiting for someone else to “fix it”, these students (guided by support from parents and teachers) will lick their own wounds, develop a new game plan, and live to fight another day.

Greatness often springs from failure.

Failure is only the end of the story when you choose to make it so. Consider the following:

J.K. Rowling: In the mid-1990s, J.K. Rowling’s life wasn’t exactly on track. Divorced, depressed, living on welfare, and parenting a young child, she decided to leverage her bleak situation by adopting a “nothing to lose” attitude that helped her focus on her dream writing project, a story about a young boy who doesn’t know he’s a wizard. Today, J.K. Rowling is a millionaire, and the “Harry Potter” franchise she created is the most successful book series of all time.

Oprah Winfrey: She was born to an unmarried housemaid in the segregated South, where she experienced poverty, abuse, and an early teenage pregnancy before she found her way to a successful high school career—and later, a job as the first African-American female news anchor on a Nashville TV station. Today, Oprah Winfrey is the head of a billion-dollar media empire, a Presidential Medal of Freedom winner, and one of the most influential women in modern history. “Think like a queen,” she once advised. “A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another stepping-stone to greatness.”

“The Godfather”: You’d never guess it from watching, but the making of this classic movie was such a problem-plagued nightmare that director Francis Ford Coppola later recalled: “Nobody enjoyed it. It was just non-stop anxiety and wondering when I was going to get fired.” Coppola kept his eye on the ball, however, and “The Godfather” would go on to become one of the highest-grossing, best-regarded movies in the entire world.

The bottom line:

As I’ve gotten older and wiser, I’ve come to embrace failure’s benefits, hence the acronym at the beginning of this article. So the lesson I try to instill in my staff and students is this: Failure hurts—but it happens. What will ultimately make you a successful person is how you respond in the face of failure, not how many times you fall down. It’s all about how you get back up, grow, and move forward.


Dr. Kaye Rogers received her Ph.D. in Educational Administration with a minor in Statistics from the University of North Texas. She earned her Master’s degree in Educational Leadership from Tarleton State University. A life-long Texan, she has taught math and science in public schools and also in Spain. She has worked in public education for over 18 years where she is committed to innovation and choice for families. She has opened three choice schools and is currently the Director of Virtual Learning at Grapevine-Colleyville ISD, where she oversees their statewide virtual school and blended schools program.

Learn more about iUniversity Prep and see if online learning is right for your child. Check us out at or give us a call at 817-305-4895.

Unedited excerpts from this article as well as the article in its unedited entirety may be re-published by news media and education-related blogs and websites, giving proper attribution to the author. All other entities must seek permission first. Digital editors: Please backlink to

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