The power of #FailForward

#FailForward. I was first introduced to this term (and hashtag) over a year ago at my school district’s Fall Convergence Symposium on the campus of NC State University. This was my first time attending the conference and I was most eager to go because of learning opportunities but also the fact authors and illustrators Peter and Paul Reynolds (commonly referred to as the Reynolds brothers) were the main guests.

The adventures of young Ish in Peter Reynolds’ signature book, The Dot, has long been one of my favorite children’s texts and I adored the lessons within it. As a third grade teacher I always read this book aloud along with Chris Van Allsburg’s Two Bad Ants the first few days of school as a segway to discuss the importance of listening along with taking risks.



I discuss, tweet and now blog about risks often. However, I utilize the specific term #FailForward just as much seemingly. Why? It’s ok to fail. Why? Some of the best learning comes when we fail, reflect and emerge stronger. It’s vital that we embrace failure and utilize it as a growing tool. Think of our country’s greatest inventors and innovators Edison, Gates, Jobs, Ford. All of them had amazing success in their respective fields eventually but failed time and time again on the front end to get their product or process “just right.” Once they got their product just right, they had to innovate especially in the case of Gates and Jobs to keep up with competition. Ironically, this is what did Henry Ford in as he refused to innovate and his competitors caught up with him and eventually surpassed, though I digress. However, we can learn from Ford in that regard as well because we must never be content with maintaining the status quo and staying too long in our “comfort zone.”


Former United States Senator and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy might have said it best over 50 years ago when he said “only those who fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” How simple, yet powerful are those words? So true, right? It’s vital that we as educators especially in leadership capacities, embrace not just by saying but also by doing. Demonstrate risk. If we fail, we learn and grow — leading my example.

They Reynolds brothers are huge into not only #FailForward but also the 4Cs which are a national movement in education as well as a significant aspect of our school district’s strategic plan.


Which is where the Reynolds’ brothers come in again with #FailForward and how their message weaves so meaningfully with our shift to 21st century learning, 4Cs integration and #FailForward. In one of their most recent books, Going Places, 4C integration and #FailForward are both address significantly. This book was used by me to assist in the roll-out the 4Cs and to our staff last school year in the video form. It’s ok to fail, as long as we’re learning, evolving and growing as learners and educators.


“The way we’ve always done it” is simply not acceptable mindset in education today. This is my 12th year in education. I have been successful in every aspect I’ve been in within the profession whether classroom or administrative end – am I ever content? No. Do I always seek to grow, learn and evolve. Absolutely. Daily in fact. The way I taught on my first day in education is far from “best practices” now — that’s how quickly our profession is advancing. It’s vital we evolve at the pace of our students and how they learn given their ever changing environment and technology exposure(s).

Ask. Take risks. Evolve. Learn. Repeat. That is what’s doing what’s best for us as educators, no matter our role, and above all – for the students we all serve.


2 thoughts on “The power of #FailForward

  1. Kyle Hamstra says:

    Nice post, Brendan. It takes courage to continue exploring the unknown. Courage is needed to take risks and be okay with the potential to fail along the way. I think many are not only afraid to try something new, but they’re even more worried about what others will think when they’re seen failing. When those in our #PLN are super critical of us and unwilling to change to do what’s best for students, it creates fear and negativity for everyone. I wish more educators embraced your wide-open spirit. Thanks for sharing! I especially liked your posting Neil Armstrong’s (Purdue University) quote.


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