“Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” Winston Churchill – Success
Is failure necessary for success?
Student success is often determined by achievements, like getting a job, acing a test, or winning a competition. Failure is seen as the opposite of success, and something to avoid at all costs. What if failure is necessary for success? Is it possible that without failure we can’t achieve greatness? The relationship between success and failure is a complicated one that students must figure out on their own.
Join Steve and Dan Fouts with Amy Fast, High School principal and author, for a conversation about success and how failure can be an integral part to developing confidence and a sense of purpose.
Image source: Flikr | Yousuf Kars
Hello, Steve and Dan Fouts here. We’re veteran educators who’ve created the Teach Different podcast to inspire people to think deeper, listen with more intention, and understand each other better. On this podcast we model the Teach Different method using claims, counterclaims, essential questions, and quotes from some of the world’s great thinkers. This method works with adults and students of all ages, at school or at home, and it’s implemented using Google forms. So, if you’re a teacher, parent, administrator, social emotional learning specialist, or anybody who wants to think a new way and help others do the same, then you’ve come to the right place.
Dan Fouts: 0:44
Welcome everybody to the Teach Different podcast this week. We have a Winston Churchill quote we’re going to work with, but before we share it we’d like to give the new listeners an overview of the method and what exactly is happening on this podcast. We’re going to work through the claim of the quote – where we talk about what the quote means in our own words. After the claim, we’re going to move to the counterclaim and push against the reasoning of the quote. We have to believe in this counterclaim. You can’t just believe in the quote and then come up with a counterclaim and give it lip service. You actually have to try to believe in it in order for critical thinking to occur. Finally, we’ll end with an essential question. There’s going to be a lot to think about tonight, and we have a fantastic guest with us to talk about the quote.
Let’s begin with the quote. Winston Churchill, prime minister of England, famous for so many reasons, especially for what he did in World War II, said “Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” What does this quote mean? What is Winston Churchill saying to us?
Amy Fast: 2:28 – Claim
Hello. I am Amy Fast, the principal of McMinnville high school. This is my twentieth year in education. I’m a former fifth grade teacher and instructional coach, and I’m happy to be here tonight. When I read this it resonated. This idea of failure as something that can leverage growth and learning has been getting a lot of traction lately. For me, it speaks to the importance of mindsets and behavioral processes when it comes to accelerating our learning. Success is often defined by our resilience, our resolve, and not necessarily our achievements. As an educator sometimes there’s a bit of a rub with that for me because schools are typically set up to be pretty linear with finish lines and not allowing for this kind of iterative process that can be defined by going from failure to innovation to risk, to failure to innovation to risk. So, it definitely got me thinking. How this quote spoke to me was this idea that people who can go from failure to failure with enthusiasm are pretty confident people. Only confident people can go from failure to failure with enthusiasm. This got me thinking about what breeds confidence. That was where my brain went with this quote.
Steve Fouts: 4:08
Yeah, we see confident people and they make it look so easy. I think the mistake we probably make when we look at that confidence is that it’s easy. So, when failure hits us some of us will say uh-oh, this means I’m not good at this, or there’s some sign that I shouldn’t be doing this. I really like the way you’re saying that Amy, because confident people are a good avatar to look at. What do they do with failure? They make it seem easy, like failure isn’t even an issue.
Amy Fast: 4:51
Dan Fouts: 4:53
Unfortunately, some people look to others who are so enthusiastic even when they’re failing and become intimidated. They think, what’s wrong with me, why can’t I have the attitude that this person has? They seem to just go through mistake after mistake and they’re actually learning things and I’m sitting here getting obsessed with my errors. They can inadvertently make other people feel bad sometimes.
Amy Fast: 0:44
Right, and yet I think people will strive to be like the competent people who are around them. I think about the times in my life when I went from insecure to confident in the same field and there was so much “fake it ‘til you make it” that happened in that window. You know what I mean? I was insecure, then I’d see people that I wanted to be like and I would just emulate them. I wouldn’t feel the sense of confidence that they felt, but I would just say, oh this is what they do when they crash and burn, this is the look on their faces when they’re saying this out loud, this is how they’re using their time. I tried those things, and then at some point I started believing in myself.
Dan Fouts: 6:06
We, we … go ahead Steve
Steve Fouts: 6:08
You go ahead Dan, because I had a question as well.
Dan Fouts: 6:11
And we probably have the same question right, because we’re twins. So, would you just tell someone that “fake it ‘til you make it” works?
Amy Fast: 6:19
Dan Fouts: 6:21
So, it worked?
Amy Fast: 6:22
I mean I think so. I think that our brains are super complicated organs and they’re also pretty fickle. Your brain will believe your habits. Sometimes the behavior has to precede the belief, right? We hear that all the time in education. I’m a huge fan of having a belief and buy in, but the reality is that sometimes that just has to be secondary to just doing the thing. Act in the way that you hear works, and then your beliefs will follow.
Steve Fouts: 7:01
That’s Aristotelian, Amy. This idea of habits being the key to virtue. You don’t have to have this deep profound understanding and experience…
Dan Fouts: 7:15
Just do it.
Steve Fouts: 7:16
…of what a virtuous person is, but if you do the habits of behavior, you become virtuous through habits. Dan, did that strike you as well? We’re both philosophy majors.
Amy Fast: 7:31
I love that, I love that.
Dan Fouts: 7:35
I wasn’t thinking of Aristotle, but you’re right. He also focused on role modeling being the key to virtue. You have to watch people do things, and do them well, in order for you to do them well. That does fit.
Amy Fast: 7:48
You know people sometimes give me a hard time because they think I’m a proponent of social emotional learning above academic achievement. That’s not actually the case. I think they’re extremely interdependent. This is one of the things I think we’ve gotten wrong with social emotional learning in the last ten years or so is that we have to save students from their discomfort. That path, from failure to overcoming failure, and then becoming confident and hopeful is such an important path for all students to take. I think too often we get into this space where we are trying to help students…
Steve Fouts: 8:27
Amy Fast: 8:28
…develop habits that will eventually help them feel good, but we protect them from discomfort which prevents them from using failure as something they can leverage for success in school.
Steve Fouts: 8:42
Yeah, leveraging failure for success. Wow, what a nice way to say the claim. That’s a great encapsulation. I’m imagining a quote like this with students of any age. The prompt I see in this conversation would be something to the effect of, give me a time when you feel like you did fail a lot but you stuck with it. What did that feel like? What did that look like? Are you still sticking with it?
Dan Fouts: 9:27
Why did you stick with it? Who actually reflects on why they actually stuck with it? That acknowledgement is important too.
Anything to add, Dan? It’s pretty straight forward. It’s the mindset, the growth mindset. You’re going to be successful when you’re making mistakes, and learning from your mistakes. What you need to do is make more mistakes. If you feel like you’re stuck, then you’re not putting yourself out there and growing. It’s kind of dependent.
Amy Fast: 10:04
The more mistakes you make, the more comfortable you become with making mistakes. Eventually you can say, my mistake is not me. It’s my mistake, but that doesn’t define who I am. I think that takes a second, because developmentally teenagers are insecure beings trying to figure out who they are. For adults to say I know who I am, I know this mistake doesn’t define me, that’s pretty sophisticated thinking. I think it’s trickier for a teenager to not be defined by their mistakes.
Dan Fouts: 10:42
Because they feel like they’re being watched by people, and they feel insecure?
Amy Fast: 10:46
I think so much about grading. We are a bit of hypocrites in schools when we say, take risks, be willing to fail, learn from failure, but at the end of the semester if you haven’t done these things you’re going to get an F. That F is going to forever be on your transcript. That F stands for failed. As adults we get to learn. People say we do that because they have to understand the real world. Well, in the real world when I fail in my job, I don’t get an F on my end of year evaluation, I get a chance to fix it. I do think that we preach this well in schools but we don’t set up the system to facilitate this type of learning.
Dan Fouts: 11:36
Do you think, based on your book, “It’s the Mission, not the Mandates,” that the focus is perhaps too much on the academics and not as much on the soft skills? Should kids work on perseverance and hope, and things that will bring them these rewards?
Amy Fast: 12:02
Well, it’s interesting that you bring up hope, because the definition of hope is that it’s a habit of mind or a behavioral process that is born from continuously overcoming adversity, and when you’re faced with a mistake, or failure, or something you’ve overcome, you have hope that you can do it. That’s what hope is. It’s confidence, confidence in action in the face of adversity. I hesitate to say we focus too much on academics, because I don’t think it’s a pie that has to be rationed. I do think there’s an interdependence, when you focus more on one thing you get more of the other two. When you’re focusing intently on social emotional learning or intrinsic drive you get more of the academic piece.
Steve Fouts: 12:49
Amy Fast: 12:50
I think with academic achievement, in our country especially, we’ve been too short sighted on the end goal for what we’re trying to accomplish. We’re not trying to create critical thinkers. If we were, we would be fostering this idea of iteration, thinking, failure, and innovation. But, often we’re trying to check off skills mastered and I think that’s where we go wrong. We have this angle of you pass or fail verses let me give you feedback on your thinking skills, behavioral skills, soft skills, which actually play into those thinking skills. Kids need feedback on how well they persevered, how resilient they are, even how curious they are or how many questions they ask about a given topic? Instead, we give them feedback on the extent to which they mastered the skill and that doesn’t help them become better thinkers.
Steve Fouts: 13:48
That’s great. I think you nailed it. It’s not that all these things aren’t important, it’s where we’re putting our priorities. We think it’s really important that you’ve mastered this skill. Well, if you persevered, that’s great, that’s one, we’re not going to measure that…
Amy Fast: 14:07
And really that should be flipped. Excellent that you mastered that skill, that was a nice bonus. What we’re really trying to do is get kids to think, persevere, problem solve, and be curious, because they’ll eventually get that skill. If they can master that habit of mind, they’re going to get that skill.
Dan Fouts: 14:23
This is virtue education. Getting the right habits. I was just looking at the quote again, “success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” I teach high school, Amy. I’m in my 29th year teaching social studies. I teach philosophy, government, and U.S. history. I’m definitely going to use this quote this year. They’re going to be surprised to see success and failure in the same sentence. They won’t see that connection immediately. I think that’s one good thing that can come out of talking about this, that they’ll stop associating them as separate and bring them together.
Amy Fast: 15:11
Right. I think it’s super valuable. Again it would be fascinating to pull from them, in what places, programs, and practices does our school walk this talk and in what places do we not.
Dan Fouts: 15:25
They’d be honest about that, wouldn’t they?
Amy Fast: 15:27
Yeah, I think so.
Steve Fouts: 15:28
Do an assessment.
Amy Fast: 15:29
Steve Fouts: 15:30
Let’s do an assessment on ourselves with a counterclaim. Amy, this is my role, I always flip us.
Amy Fast: 15:41
I love it.
Steve Fouts: 15:42 – Counterclaim
This is a tough one, because I agree with this quote. Do you have an idea of what a counterclaim might be? If someone were to take exception with this and say hang on, in certain cases it’s something else. What do you think?
Amy Fast: 15:58
I take exception to this. I do think it’s also true that success begets success. I cannot just walk confidently from failure to failure unless I’ve experienced success, where I’ve had that rush of aliveness with, oh my god I mattered in that thing. I was competent.
I don’t know if you’re familiar with Dan Pink’s research on intrinsic drive – mastery, autonomy, purpose, are things that make you care. Enthusiasm is motivation. In order to maintain motivation you have to have a sense of being good at this, have a sense of this matters, and that you have some choice in doing this. I don’t feel like you can walk from failure to failure without motivation unless you have a sense of purpose, competence, and some sense of agency. I think that it’s contingent on those pieces. Failure only leverages success when those other factors or variables are in the equation.
Dan Fouts: 17:06
Interesting! It sounds like your interpretation of the counterclaim is that it’s incomplete; it doesn’t bring in those other supporting forces that have to be in place.
Amy Fast: 17:14
Yeah. I don’t think it’s doable to just adopt the mindset on your own and say you’re going to walk from failure to failure with enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is something that you feel. You’ve got to have some things present in order to feel that, right?
Steve Fouts: 17:32
I like that. Without those other components this could be a disaster, having failure after failure.
Amy Fast: 17:37
Right. That’s how people shut down.
Steve Fouts: 17:40
Exactly. I’m adopting the adolescent mind set, and I think I alluded to it before. Whenever you’re trying things, sometimes you fail. With agency we come to a crossroads. Do I keep beating my head against the wall and try to succeed at this, or is this a sign that I should move on? I need to pick and choose priorities. This is similar to what you were talking about – knowing your purpose. I would just add in here that when you feel and know that quickly, it’s a good sign to just quit and do something else.
Amy Fast: 18:40
I would just say that I think another caveat to the claim is that we’re super individualistic in American schools. We don’t create this culture of succeeding and failing as a group, and this interdependence of students and teams. I think it’s easier to jump from failure to failure with enthusiasm when you have a crew with which you share the successes and failures.
I think about the failures I’ve experienced and the reason I can jump from one to the other with enthusiasm is that I have people in my corner supporting me, working with me on this thing. Often, it’s just you failing U.S. History versus your group trying this thing together. Maybe it didn’t work, but what can you learn? That’s a different experience.
Dan Fouts: 19:48
Yeah, that’s such a great point. When you fail with others it’s easier to suffer through them towards success because you have people depending on you. Yeah, that’s great.
Steve Fouts: 19:58
We are very individualistic. I mean we get individual grades.
Amy Fast: 20:02
Yeah, right. I don’t know if you ever read “Big Potential” by Sean Aker. It’s so good. It talks about the potential of the group over the potential of the individual and the potential for happiness and purpose. I read it after I wrote my book, but it made me rethink everything that I had thought through and written. Learning is not an individual experience. It’s not a solo adventure.
Dan Fouts: 20:35
The best classes are when you feel like your classes are moving as one organism. You feel the failure together or you feel success together.
Amy Fast: 20:53
Yeah, but there’s always enthusiasm.
Steve Fouts: 20:58
That’s really what a conversation is. The right type of conversation is everybody failing or succeeding together in trying to understand something, and you need each other to get there. You have dependency, and that’s okay.
Amy Fast: 21:15
Dan Fouts: 21:21
I was thinking of another angle to the counterclaim. I can imagine some kids saying success is winning the championship. It’s not about failure. Success is the feeling of accomplishment after you’ve worked hard to do something. Whether you failed or not that’s secondary, if you did to get there, great, but that’s not what success is.
Amy Fast: 21:47
I guess it depends on whether success is external from you or internal. That’s another thing schools do, we base grades on outcome which is an external accomplishment versus an internal assessment. When you look at things like student surveys to measure how well you’re doing as a school, that would be an internal success. What we measure shows what we value. We definitely have a society that values extrinsic success – how much money do you make, did you win the championship, how are your grades, versus do you feel like you have a sense of agency, are you more motivated to lean into discomfort, are you going to throw your hat in the ring during the next thing? I guess it comes back to what’s the definition of success, right?
Steve Fouts: 22:34
Dan Fouts: 22:36
That would be a really good essential question, too. What were you going to say, Steve?
Steve Fouts: 22:41
I was going to say what you said. Some kids are going to think success is winning something. They’re going to start with that. In fact, that should be one of those words you circle when you put this quote on the board. There are always one or two words in these quotes that you have to unpack before you get into the claim and counterclaim, just to get everybody on the same page.
Dan Fouts: 23:14
Sometimes they end up having a conversation about what success is. Any other thoughts on the counterclaim? Amy, you’ve had experience with fourth and fifth graders in the same district, right?
Amy Fast: 23:31
Dan Fouts: 23:33
That’s interesting. Did you have any of your fourth and fifth graders as high school students?
Amy Fast: 23:39
That’s why I’m here. I moved from fourth to fifth grade and then I got my administrative license as part of my doctorate. I didn’t think I was going to use it and then I got recruited to be the high school assistant principal. I noticed that the fourth and fifth graders that I had taught were at the high school. I followed them to high school as the assistant principal.
Dan Fouts: 24:01
How nice is that?
Amy Fast: 24:02
It’s so great. I realize I just love high school. I love it so much and I love teenagers. I love the complexity of it, and I just stayed.
Dan Fouts: 24:14
Do you think a fourth or fifth grader could tackle this quote with some help?
Amy Fast: 24:22
Listen, I think we underestimate elementary students.
Dan Fouts: 24:24
Amy Fast: 24:25
We used to have the most robust and sophisticated Socratic seminars in fifth grade. We would invite the high school language arts classes to engage in the Socratic seminars. They would always leave saying, I cannot believe those were the thoughts, citations, and rebuttals of ten and eleven year-olds. I think we just sell them so short sometimes. It’s about scaffolding enough so that they can actually articulate their thoughts to think through counterclaims and think through good questioning. When you teach them how to converse they can have an intellectual academic discussion. It’s something that is very process oriented. When you first try to engage in these really deep philosophical conversations with young children it’s kind of clunky, but if you stick with it, they are absolutely capable of way more than anyone thinks.
Dan Fouts: 25:27
It’s like a routine right, Amy? Like anything else, they’ll get used to the routine if you just stick with it.
Amy Fast: 25:35
Part of it, honestly, is that they have already gotten used to playing the game of school. They think, oh wait there’s not a right or wrong answer. It takes them a good few months to unlearn that habit of mind. I’m not coming up with the right answer, I’m just engaging in thoughtful discourse. That’s a really hard shift, even at 11 years old.
Steve Fouts: 25:56
But, once they know the game they’ll follow it. That’s the game you want to follow.
Amy Fast: 26:02
Dan Fouts: 26:04
Steve Fouts: 26:05
Dan Fouts: 26:06 – Essential Question
Well, excellent. We can wrap up with an essential question and then, Amy, you can share how people can get in touch with you if they’re interested in learning more about what you do.
A question from this conversation is What is a success that you’ve had? Amy, I think that is a really good one. It would be rich with possibility. Also, a good essential question could be Is failure necessary for success? It seems like a yes or no, but it’s really way more complex, because you’ve got to take a position and defend it. When these conversations are over we encourage teachers to share the essential question – either one that they’ve come up with or that the students came up with during the conversation. As an exit slip, the kids answer it. The sophistication of their thinking is going to be incredible because they’ve learned from all of their peers.
Amy, how can people get a hold of you if they’re interested in your work?
Amy Fast: 27:18
I’m probably most easily available on Twitter.
Dan Fouts: 27:22
That’s how I discovered you as well.
Amy Fast: 27:27
People can reach out through Instagram, DM, or email me at McMinnville high school. I’d be happy to chat with anyone.
Steve Fouts: 27:38
Awesome. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast. Your insights and wealth of knowledge are appreciated. You have such a perspective now that you’ve been a teacher, instructional coach, assistant principal and principal of K12. That’s really cool.
Amy Fast: 28:00
Yes, thank you.
Dan Fouts: 28:01
Yeah, thank you so much.
Steve Fouts: 28:03
Thank you, Amy.
Thanks everybody. We hope you’re walking away feeling energized by some great ideas and are confident conversations like this are possible with a little bit of planning and a 3-step method. Make sure you go to teachdifferent.com to learn more and check out our library of conversation starters, each with a different quote, a sample claim, counterclaim and essential question to get you started.
Good luck and don’t forget to Teach Different with conversations and make a difference every day.