Steve Heisler

Teacher Author Speaker


"Every single child wants to be successful. The problem is, if they can't be successful at being successful, they'll be successful at screwing up. Our job as educators is to change the latter to the former."    

- from the The Missing Link by Steve Heisler


Frankly I am not one of these folks who think that failure is great, particularly for kids. Actually I am not sure failure is good for anyone. Yet titles abound promising greatness as a result of it: The Gift of Failure, The Power of Failure, Fueled by Failure, among others.  I suppose if I were savvy I’d just shut the hell up and write The Joy of Failure and take a limo to the bank.

But, unfortunately, I don’t really buy that tough of kids crap. To my way of thinking, although many advise us to let our kids fear, fall and fail, making kids fearful might be just another, more socially acceptable version of spare the rod, spoil the child.

The problem is that failure, like success, or even happiness winds up being defined as a state of being. Pursuing happiness, our guaranteed American right, has been transmuted from a pursuit to a place. Am I happy, we ask ourselves; are you happy others want to know; are you in your happy place?

Success and failure have also become states of being.  Since we define people as ‘successes’ one would assume that they have found some magical place where everything is right where it needs to be, and is there at all times.  Likewise failure is a label, too, a Scarlet Letter slung around the neck of someone who has entered that state of being. Winners and looooooosers!

Reality is more complex, of course. No need to belabor that here: successful people are simply folks who are not always successful but usually understand how to renew the lease on success over and over again.

But here’s a news flash: successful people know something that others may not. They know that failure does not exist as an entity but rather as something that only we, ourselves, can create.  To be a success, in anything, you must refuse to create failure, that’s all: FAILURE ONLY BECOMES FAILURE WHEN WE QUIT: UNTIL THEN, IT’S JUST PROCESS!

Now I am not suggesting that we rescue kids constantly; we know that struggle is critical. But struggle itself teaches kids no more about success than consequences teaches kids about behavior. These things reinforce learning but until we change what students know, and know how to do, they’ll just keep doing the same things over and over again.

When we teach kids that they are in control of failure - if they don’t quit, they cannot fail - and help them develop the skills to deal with the struggle of the process, then we have a shot to teach them how to succeed. What we need to teach, in school, at home and everywhere, exactly what I once read on the door to a teacher’s room: “In the end everything will be ok. If it’s not ok, it is not yet the end!”