In October, I had the opportunity to attend the Schlechty Center’s Working on the Work (WOW) Conference.  Phil Schlechty, the author of Leading for Learning and Working on the Work, provides a great professional development experience for participants.  I attended the Design 2.0 sessions and returned to work with great ideas to share with other teachers in my district.  As we walked through the process of designing engaging student work, one participant made a profound statement, “Fail Often…Succeed Sooner.”  This video on the design process shows how we must go through a trial and error process to arrive at the right design for our customers.

The idea that we must fail is not very popular in education.  Administrators and parents expect their students to succeed, and many people believe that success is about passing rates on standardized tests.  As a result of these expectations, many teachers feel that they can’t try new teaching strategies that might jeopardize the success rate of their students.  We settle for “ritual engagement” and “passive compliance” instead of “authentic engagement.”  The only way to have actively engaged students is to know our students and design work that is meaningful and valuable.  And that process, as many of us know from experience, can be a bumpy ride.  Some strategies that we try will not work as planned, and we’ll be back to the drawing board just like the designer in that video.

With so much on the line, how can we move forward in designing project and problem-based learning experiences for our students?  My suggestion is to create your own coaching circle of colleagues who can cheer you on, give you feedback, and be there for support when something doesn’t turn out the way that you planned.  At the WOW conference, I was able to participate in a coaching circle as I designed a lesson.  I enjoyed taking the lesson back to the circle and having the participants ask me questions to help me with my design.

As educators, we must continually reflect on our failures and successes to provide the right learning experience for each of our students.  The key is to step out on a limb and surround yourself with teachers who are working through the same process.  Take that chance, and your failures will turn into brilliant successes.

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