It is OK to Try and… Fail!

By Sara Arranz February 12th, 2014 4:00 PM

We, as teachers, may have the lesson planned, the standards posted, the goals clear, the materials set up, and students who are ready to learn. Everything may seem perfect in the morning… but suddenly something happens and nothing occurs as expected.

Lets visualize the situation: You are at a station with your students and something is telling you, “This is not working, my students are not engaged, nor focused, nor motivated, and they need something else. But what?!”

It took me a while to realize that every time this happens, I need to change something different: the pace, time, method, strategy, material or location of that activity, and it has to be at that very moment, without any delay. We cannot wait until the end of the activity when this happens, and we must observe and use our creativity to change the situation.

Thanks to DCPS, I am one of the lucky teachers participating in this year’s Education Innovation Fellowship sponsored by the CityBridge Foundation. This fellowship exposed me to a book by Eric Ries titled The Lean Start Up, which outlines how to build and sustain entrepreneurial businesses.

Many of these lessons also apply to schools, helping me to verbalize those changes that I was already making in my practice. The changes taking place in my lessons were innovations, and they were happening constantly. We teachers are entrepreneurs, and we are creating new things every second. With this comes additional risk, and failing is OK. As Eric Ries says in his book, if we notice that a strategy is not working as it’s supposed to, we can always pivot and find a better one.

What is not OK is to claim that, if an activity planned did not work, it was because the students were not ready. We must find the way to get them ready to learn, and we are the ones responsible for motivating them by using different methods. We have to try and test, see and change, adopt when it works and adapt when it does not.

The best thing about this kind of method is that we are supported. There are resources out there waiting for us to use them meaningfully. New technologies are one of the best. While some might say, “I use computers in my classroom, tables, the smart board…and my lessons are still failing,” we are talking about two different things here.

When I talk about technology, I am focusing on:

  1. How we use these resources
  2. The control of the use of these resources

I am talking about blended learning. There are four main models, all of which incorporate a combination of teacher-based instruction with digital-based instruction. I just started to learn about this type of learning, and I already know that this is the way to improve both my practice and my students’ way of learning.

As Clayton Christensen, Curtis W. Johnson, and Michael B. Horn say in the subtitle of their book, “Disruptive innovation will change the way the world learns.” It may sound “disruptive” and extremely uncertain, but isn’t that what makes us entrepreneurs? so we must change the way that teachers teach in order to make our method the one that is most effective and successful.

Sara Arranz is a pre-kindergarten Spanish immersion teacher at Cleveland Elementary School.