Right now my students and I are in the middle of a research project. One of the most important things that we are delving into right now is honing our skills in evaluating websites for accuracy and bias. We did the traditional exercise of evaluating the Northwestern Tree Octopus and then I gave them the challenge of evaluating three websites about Ferdinand Magellan. Thanks to my friend and colleague, Gerald Aungst, I was able to provide them with a severely erroneous site about him as part of the challenge. As part of the evaluation process, I provided a template for them to track the evaluation process.

It was a complete failure.

The first class that attempted to use the template struggled. I reflected that the template was not detailed enough to guide the process, so the students were struggling with where to start.

So I redesigned it.

All of my classes had already received the template, so for my remaining classes, I included this slide in my lesson.










I told them that I had failed, that the original template I had designed was not effective. Then, each student crumpled up the old one and put their name on the new one. The new template proved extremely effective and students easily completed it, reaching the conclusions that I hoped they would about each site provided.

So why bother telling this story?

Too often, teachers feel that they need to be perfect, that they can’t falter in front of their students. I find it more effective to be real with my students and let them know that I am also a learner and that I learn from my mistakes. Also, in a climate of ‘no excuses’ and where failure is seen as the worst thing that can happen, it is important to model learning from failure and turning failure into success for our students.

My students didn’t flinch when I told them “I failed.” We put our names on the new paper, moved on and in the end, they were able to identify the site that was phony all by themselves, using the new template as a guide.



  1. Reply

    I tried using Google Sites as a portfolio for my Digital Design students this year. I wanted to use WordPress but I also wanted them to use something that was connected to their google apps accounts through our school. When all was said and done the Google Sites were clunky, could not be personalized, and the color was off on every single .jpg that we uploaded. I told my students that I had made a poor choice. I gave them the option to continue to use the Google Site or to delete it and try to make a .pdf in indesign that could be uploaded to Issuu. I failed and I succeeded. Students need to know that it is ok to be wrong. As teachers shift into a position of “guide on the side,” we must be able to learn and reflect along side of our students. Thank you for sharing this experience!

  2. Pingback: Failure is Always an Option » Philly Teacher « artwitholiveri

  3. Andrea Yawman


    Thank you for sharing this story. One of the intelligent behaviors that Art Costa and Bena Kallick identified is “persistence.” How do our students every learn to be persistent when they are expected to succeed all the time? Sharing your “failure” with them is very powerful! Awesome!

  4. Reply

    I love this because it is a reminder that we(teachers) are learners as well, and we learn from our mistakes. I think it makes for a great model for our students! Too many students perceive learning as some kind of laminated process that happens to them when they are in school. When learning is genuine, it connects to everyday life, mistakes and all. You must be a loved and respected person in your students’ lives.

  5. Reply

    Thank you for saying the “F” word! Teaching kids to Fail is one of the MOST important things you can do as an educator today in order to prepare them properly for their success tomorrow. Taking your thought process one step further, yes, it’s important teachers be humble and admit when they have failed but more than that, it’s important to lead children through their own failures and past that to their successes. This is a process. And when they learn how to go through this process with grace, honesty, clarity and self-confidence, nothing can stop them from solving their own and other problems for everyone’s benefit. As you rightly point out and no doubt deal with every day, the current US school culture that shuns failure and all too often wants to make kids receive the scarlet “A” in order to make them feel good (or make the teacher feel better), is actually truly failing to prepare them (unless the kids have well and truly deserved an outstanding recognition by their teacher- but most can’t be outstanding by definition). So teaching them to fall down and get back up and the value of that process is the best gift an educator can give a child today. The other gift passionate and committed educators can give is truly listening intently to each individual student to bring out their individual talents and enthusiasm for their own path, and not labeling them with a path such as “college bound” or “career bound” if that is in fact not useful for the child’s talents and best path- it takes real courage to go against the self-perpetuating bubble of the college-bound education goal for all students, when an educator may know instinctively that that track is in fact NOT the fastest path to success for every last student, though it may be wonderful for many. What about the artist, the musician, the entrepreneur and other useful professions- surely college is not the best place for them to cut their teeth and learn when the real world provides the real learning deal? But for more academics, scientists, doctors and such, of course college is a great choice. Thank you Marybeth to you and other teachers who are leading the way on this! We need more people to stand up and LEAD in education so every child can be best prepared for their (and our) futures.

    • marybeth


      Thanks for your kind words, Geraldine. I agree that we can’t assume that college is the right choice for everyone. I hope we can get to a point in education when students are given a chance to explore their passions enough to know for themselves whether college is what they need to fulfill their dreams.

  6. Christine


    I love this! Iteration at it’s finest! I, too, openly admit to students when I have “failed”. I distinctly recall about 3 years ago when I passed out an piece of paper and had 1st graders begin to write a story based on a stem. After 3 minutes several were in tears and I was mentally kicking myself because I had not adequately scaffolded up to this lesson. We tore our papers carefully in 2 equal parts, set them on the floor, put our feet on top of them, and “skated” around the room for 5 minutes. Then we balled them up and tossed them. When the physical remnants of my failing were in the garbage we had a SERIOUS conversation about it being OK to make mistakes…AS LONG AS…we own them and don’t let them define us. We should always push forward and keep trying. (Obviously, this wasn’t the first OR LAST time I “skated” with students. Now I teach in a lab setting and often, I don’t get the chance to fail in front of the kids because the kids take over…they are natural risk takers and feel safe to try, fail, and try again in the lab!)

  7. Dianne


    I’ve been using Google sites for portfolio development with my students. We have not uploaded the bulk of their work yet. Would you suggest another venue for this? So you are saying the Google distorts the .jpg images? Yes. If more students would be accepting of teacher’s failures it would be a happier world.

    • marybeth



      I’m not sure exactly what happened in ArtwithOliveri’s experience. I would probably use the “File Cabinet” feature in Google Sites to upload digital files if you are worried about distortion.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.