Celebrate Failure


If you are going to try to get better, you are inevitably going to make mistakes. How you see these mistakes are going to influence your progress and improvement. If you see mistakes as failures, you are not going to get far. If you instead see mistakes as lessons, you can use this missteps to get better.

I believe that instead of shying away from mistakes and trying to forget about them as quickly as possible, we should celebrate our mistakes. We should share our failures so that other may learn.

We should also share the experiences where things do not go as planned so that we create a culture where we see that getting better is not a linear path. Failures are part of the process. If you are not making mistakes, you are not pushing your self to get better.

This year, as a framework to be a better school, we started using Learning Sprints to organize our professional learning. This was hard, but worth it. We wanted to ensure that we were causing learning and wanted to get better at meeting the educational needs of our particular community. We made mistakes.

Below is a list of the biggest mistakes we made this year in implementing Learning Sprints. I hope that this helps others learn from our trials and also creates a culture throughout education where we can experiment and learn.

Failure 1

When we started we wanted to get all of our junior high teachers on board and rolling at the same time. We joined everyone, all 10 teachers into one group. After a time they started having difficult deciding on an area of learning that they could agree on. They also felt that the targets were too general for their needs.

Lesson: Keep groups smaller (2-4 people) and organize them around a unifying theme. This could be grade level or subject.

Failure 2

We created a schedule where we would meet to review our Learning Sprints every 4-5 weeks that was mostly outside of the schedule. We used professional development (PD) days (days when students are not at school), after school sessions, and a few blocks in the schedule. There were a few PD days when something came up and we were not able to meet to discuss our Learning Sprint. There were also some after school sessions where getting all teachers together was impossible because of extra-curricular activities (basketball, band, etc).

Lesson: Try, to the degree most possible, to organize collaboration time inside the schedule of the school day.

Failure 3

The message that we gave to teachers the most was that Learning Sprints was a way to improve student performance and learning. We were organizing this structure so that students could learn better. Teachers focused on the students and what they were doing for the students. They did not see that the actual focus of Learning Sprints is the professional development that they get, the improvement of their own teaching practice.

Lesson: Emphasize that Learning Sprints, and all other professional development, is most effective when teachers become better practitioners. When teacher have more strategies and are better at their craft, student performance improves.

Failure 4

Our focus was literacy this year at our school. To have accessible research I bought a copy of Visible Learning for Literacy (Hattie, et al.) for the teachers who were doing the Learning Sprints. Although most read through the book, we chose to focus on the strategies that were the most effective on Hattie’s list without consideration of the needs of our students. We started at the top of the list of effective practices and moved down.

Lesson: School communities are individual and their needs are different. Balance the effective practices with the needs of your students when choosing your focus.


We have learned a lot this year in implementing Learning Sprints. Ultimately, I believe that because of this way of organizing our learning we have made more progress that previously. We are committed to getting better. Part of this commitment is sharing our failures as lessons and giving ourselves the freedom to make mistakes.

I hope you learn from our failures and make a few yourself.


Rigorous and Human


A few weeks ago, I encountered a great way of thinking about schools. Simon Breakspear was leading a session about Learning Sprints and shared that our approach to learning should be both rigorous and human. This struck me as so true. We need to be both committed to data and research, at the same time as taking the personal needs of the individuals we are working with into consideration when making decisions.

Simon Breakspear (@simonbreakspear)

We often see information that leads us to choose one side or the other in this spectrum. We see people espousing the need to base decisions solely on data, evaluation, and the most effective teaching practices according to research. We also see people making arguments for the other side. They would say we need to value the individuals, the local context and the emotions of our students over all else.

I am not here to say these people wrong. I actually think they are both right.

One of the reasons I feel this “rigorous and human” term is so helpful is that it acknowledges that most things about working with people, of which schools are most definitely in this category, are not black or white. They are a shade of grey. When we are faced with complicated decisions, we need to use both research and individual needs. We need both evaluation and feedback. We need both numbers and how the numbers make people feel. We are in a constant juggling act where one influence leads to the other and back.

One of the problems I can see with the “rigorous and human” approach is that we need to define the terms. I think the word rigor has had a certain buzz around it for a while and has lost some of it’s meaning. Also, human is a pretty large category. We should probably have a common understanding about what I feel it means in this context.

Rigor for me means that there is a quantitative piece to an approach. It might be that there is research backing this approach or an evaluation that has been done pre/post. It might also mean that you are using data from different sources to inform a decision. Something that is rigorous means that it applies to your context and it is a real problem that you face, and that you expect to fact over a period of time. As a teacher you are approaching your own learning on this subject from a deep learning perspective.


For me, the term human mean that you are taking in all the factors that can affect decisions, but can’t always be measured in a group evaluation or in a standard distribution. It might be community factors that affect your school. It might be individual needs of teachers that you work with. It may be related to workload issues, or the fact that one of you teachers just returned from a maternity leave and is getting less sleep. My lived experience tells me that human factors are the reason we need to approach change carefully and with small steps, over time. We also need to take care of ourselves as teachers and take steps to ensure we are well.


Here is the kicker about using “rigorous and human”, I have caught myself using this term for many aspects of my life that are not related to school. For instance, I was speaking to my wife about a problem we were going to tackle involving one of our children. We were reading parent sites to see what was recommended as an approach. We spoke after reading and felt like the information gave us a piece of the answer, but that what was going to work for our kid was a mix of a few of the suggestions. Our approach needed to be rigorous (using the data we found) and human (using our knowledge of our child to select the correct course of action). I think this shows the power of this perspective.

The next time to catch yourself going down a path that leads you to consider only one side, remember… be both rigorous and human.