Shrewsbury School

Failure Week

Friday 3 November 2017

Schools such as Shrewsbury are well used to trumpeting success. But it is not often that you hear schools such as ours talking about failure.

In the mindset of many, failure is the very antithesis of success. Loaded with negative connotations, we actively avoid talking about it and failure becomes the unspoken ‘F word’.  We’re uncomfortable with the very idea of failure, and indeed as we move from infant to child to adolescent to adult, we become more failure-averse and less inclined to step out of our comfort zone.  

At Sunday evening’s presentation to parents (entitled ‘The Discomfort Zone’) we opened with the perhaps controversial statement, ‘We want your children to fail’.  Naturally, we want our pupils to succeed and reach their potential, but we believe that the two objectives are not contradictory.  In fact, we believe that failure is absolutely critical if our pupils are to succeed. 

The message of embracing failure has long been advocated by the likes of Sir James Dyson (“We need to fail - fail often - in order to succeed”) and Bill Gates (“It’s fine to celebrate success, but more important to heed the lessons of failure”) both of whom know a thing or two about success and failure.  It’s a message that we, too, as a School firmly believe in, hence the whole-school focus of ‘Failure Week’ that was launched when the pupils returned from half-term.

During Failure Week we have challenged the pupils to rethink how they perceive failure and challenged them to step out of their comfort zone and try new things.  As staff we have endeavoured to lead from the front by stepping out of our own comfort zones and in so doing becoming pupils again and risking the possibility of failure. 

Whether performing dance for the first time, getting in a rowing boat, or learning an instrument, we hope that by getting out of our comfort zones the pupils may be encouraged to do the same. 

We hope that by talking about our own experiences of failure - and the pivotal role those failures have played in our own personal journeys - that the pupils may, too, begin to recognise that failures are not things to be feared but rather, as CS Lewis described it, “finger posts on the road to achievement”. 

To read a transcript of the talk given by Mr Walters (Deputy Head - Academic) as part of the presentation we gave to parents last Sunday, please follow the link: The Failure Allergy.

Mr Middleton, Deputy Head (Co-Curricular)

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