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Embrace Failing

At a Florida elementary school, faculty and students adopted a “failing forward” principle, which encourages a fearless approach to improvement.

At Sanders Memorial Elementary School in Land O’ Lakes, Florida, faculty and students embrace failure.

The school has adopted a principle called “failing forward,” which encourages a fearless approach to improvement. “You never truly fail unless you give up,” says principal Jason Petry.

Ryan McCorkle and James Coyne, co-teachers of the school’s music program, advise other teachers not to be afraid of challenges. “You will fail — you will fail once, twice, three times, four times,” Coyne says, “But as soon as that one thing goes right, it will push you to the next level.”

With the launch of iPad Band in 2016, McCorkle experienced one of these failures. He asked students to bring in devices from home, and they brought all different kinds of handheld devices, from Apple products to Androids. When the devices were incompatible, Coyne and McCorkle realized that they would need to reserve a set of iPads for this group.

One way to embrace failure is to start small and improve slowly. Sanders began by giving individual devices to students in higher grade levels at first, then expanding to the younger kids. “Once you expand into the lower grades, you’re growing students,” Petry says. “By the time they get into 4th and 5th grade, you can expand it even more.”

A cultural acceptance of failure has taken pressure off of students. “When we first opened, the 5th graders were like, ‘We’re failing, and we’re mad, and we’re not doing well!’” Petry says.

However, students are now open to new challenges. A combination of rubrics, formative and summative assessments, small-group work and optional test retakes help students step outside their comfort zone.


SupportED 2020v5n2 cover with Larry WilliamsThis article originally appeared in the 2020N2 issue of Yamaha SupportED. To see more back issues, find out about Yamaha resources for music educators, or sign up to be notified when the next issue is available, click here

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