“The greatest teacher failure is.” Yoda – Growth Mindset
Do you need to fail to learn?
From a young age we are taught the value of learning from our mistakes. The logic goes something like this, when we make mistakes we see opportunities for improvement and learning. Failure makes us wise. Yet, we also learn through our successes. It is through them that we discover what we did right and what we should continue to do next time. Failure and success are both important teachers in our lives.
Join Steve and Dan Fouts with high school social studies teacher Amy Patino for an unforgettable conversation about whether we learn more from our failures or our successes using the Teach Different 3-Step Method.
Image source: Pixabay | bladeco70
Dan Fouts 00:00
Hello, Steve and Dan Fouts here. We’re veteran educators who have created the Teach Different podcast to inspire all of us to think deeper, listen with more intention, and understand each other better. On this podcast, we model a conversation 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 is implemented using Google Forms. So, if you’re a teacher, parent, administrator, social emotional learning specialist, or anybody who wants to think in new ways and help others do the same, then you’ve come to the right place.
Welcome everybody to our latest episode of Teach Different using our 3-step conversation method. We’re very excited tonight to have Amy Patino with us. She’s a Social Studies department chair in New York. She’ll introduce herself in a moment and talk about how she uses the Teach Different method. She’s been using it for a couple of months. For those new to Teach Different, we’re going to go through the process of looking at a quote. Tonight we have Yoda from Star Wars helping us out. We’ll start with a quote from Yoda, then we’re going to work through the claim, counterclaim, and end with an essential question. Using this method we’ll unpack the wisdom of Yoda. We’re working through these conversations as adults, because it’s really important for adults to experience this process, but we want you to think about how you might use this method with your students in the classroom, either with your curriculum, or for an SEL purpose. Either way, it works well. Amy, welcome. Please share a little bit about what you do and your experience with the Teach Different method.
Amy Patino 02:19
Hi, everybody. I am starting my 21st year teaching. I work at a small high school right outside of West Point, the United States Military Academy. We have about 500 students. I’ve pretty much taught everything, but in the past few years I’ve mostly been teaching global history and AP United States history. Last year, Dan and Steve gave a workshop for the mid-Hudson Social Studies Council to introduce us to their method. Last year I tried it twice, once with my AP students. I used their quote from Margaret Mead on civic responsibility as a lead into the New Deal. Then, I used a quote from Martin Luther with my ninth graders as we moved into the Reformation. Today, I began planning for my tenth graders in the fall, and in the first week I’m going to be using your quote from Henry David Thoreau on civil disobedience. I thought that would be a good one to introduce them to that theme, before we talk about the Enlightenment in the French Revolution. Last year, I discovered that this method worked well with my AP students. They had a much better classroom community getting Virtual Learning last year. They already knew each other, and I knew a lot of them from different things at school when they were ninth graders. I don’t think it was that they were ninth graders. I think it was just the nature of that classroom. We have three feeder schools into our high school, so many of kids don’t know each other. We were virtual for half a year and then hybrid for the rest of the year. It was a little hard to get them talking about the topic at first, but I think it went really well with my AP students. When we start next week, we’re going to be fully in person again. I thought this would be a good way to establish a community in the classroom to encourage kids to talk and share before we get into content.
Dan Fouts 05:18
Great. That makes sense. I’m doing a similar thing. I’m using this method as an opening activity for my classes, to build a classroom community and establish how we talk with one another. Amy, thank you for that introduction and giving other people some ideas on how they might use our 3-step method. We have a quote from Yoda. I’m going to say it a couple of times, and then we like to have our guests start off with the claim, what is your take on the quote. Here is the quote, “The greatest teacher failure is.” The Jedi Master is sharing his wisdom. “The greatest teacher failure is.” What’s your take on this, Amy?
Amy Patino 06:15 – Claim
We often tell our students that you learn more from your failures than your successes. I even tell my children, who are seven and eight, that it’s okay to get things wrong. We all make mistakes, and we learn more from those mistakes. I even have a sign on my classroom door that says, mistakes are signs that you were trying. I understand this quote as a similar sentiment to that.
Steve Fouts 06:47
I would look at this quote from the perseverance angle. What’s a way to positively look at failures? You could think of them as moving you forward. That’s counterintuitive to most people. I don’t know if you guys would agree, but especially to the young. When you’re young, you don’t make a distinction between a failure as an act, as something temporary, and a failure as a person, something that becomes who you are.
Dan Fouts 06:59
Yes, that was the principal, Amy Fast from Fennville, Oregon. That was a very interesting point that she brought up. And I agree with that. The kids have a hard time processing that mistakes are not a reflection of them as a person. They take it very personally. Is that how you remembered it, Steve?
Steve Fouts 07:56
Yeah. But, if you think of it like Amy, as an opportunity to learn something, it completely switches it up. In a classroom of adolescents, you know that they’ve all failed. That’s pretty simple. They all know what a teacher is, so I don’t think there’s any issues with word definitions, or not understanding the quote. With some quotes you have to unpack some words before you start. I could see this one starting off with someone sharing a failure. Have the kids talk about something that they failed at recently, and be honest. I think that’s pretty straightforward. What do you guys think?
Amy Patino 09:02
I think for most of the students, when they think about failure, they’re going to hone in on tests. That’s been their school experience. That failure is a bad thing. They’re trained on that. That’s one of the reasons I like this quote. It’s an opportunity to get them to think about learning as more than a test, to move away from that idea that the only thing that matters is doing well on a test.
Dan Fouts 09:41
This is really putting all of us on the spot. How do we convey that to adolescents? We’re with the high school crowd. How do we convey that failure, and your capacity to learn, goes way beyond tests?
Amy Patino 10:03
Kids often think teachers like them, or don’t like them, based on test scores. I tell them that I give you tests in part because I’m required to, but that at the end of the day, that’s not how I determine your work. You’re more than the test grade. All a test grade shows me is on a given day, you were struggling with this. I also tell them, at the beginning of the year, that I don’t really care where you’re at now, I care more where you are at the end of the year. Have I seen growth and progress? That matters so much more to me than the kid who started with an A, and ended with an A. I’m really looking for what you got out of it. In our district, there used to be all these requirements to take AP classes, and then our department just removed them. Anybody who wants to give it a try, can give it a try. I always tell them that whatever your grade is, it’s irrelevant, because I know you’re going to get more out of this class than if you were sitting in the non-AP class. As long as you’re here every day, doing what you’re supposed to do, then you’re going to be fine.
Steve Fouts 11:26
I think most teachers try to convey exactly what you said, Amy. It’s not about your test score, it’s about what you’re learning and how you’re moving yourself to something greater. From the perspective of an adolescent, it becomes a bit of a disconnect at times. They hear about the tests they have to take to get into college, and how important their grade point average is. I think they struggle with doublespeak, for lack of a better word, from the system. I’m thinking of a conversation with kids, and you’re right, they probably will think of it academically. Maybe you can get them talking about different types of failures, like failures in sports, or failures in their social life, that they want to share. Then, ask them how they dealt with failing. Did they learn from it? Were they glad they failed, because they were able to overcome it? There are all kinds of places to have this conversation. Dan, what do you think? What’s the thing that students really struggle with non-academically in the failure category?
Dan Fouts 13:08
I think you brought up sports. A lot of kids might seize on sports as something they can talk about. It’s safer. They can say, when I started on the volleyball team I wasn’t good, but by the end of the year, I was really good. Failures are a little safer to talk about with sports, perhaps. Now, there are the kids who don’t make the team and they feel like failures. So, there are similar feelings of disappointment there. I think it’s more comfortable for them to talk about sports. I might come into this conversation using athletics, if I’m feeling the classroom is not being vulnerable with other things.
Amy Patino 14:05
If they’re not willing to share, then share your own story. That helps them see you as human.
Steve Fouts 14:16
Amy, that’s so key. Once you do that, there’s equality in the classroom. I think that brings students out. Amy, I won’t put you on the spot. I’ll put Dan on the spot. I’ve got my story ready.
Dan Fouts 14:39
Eighth grade basketball, right?
Steve Fouts 14:41
Well, you quit. I didn’t get picked.
Dan Fouts 14:45
I know. Right. Okay.
Steve Fouts 14:46
So, I failed, and you quit. We have another quote for you. I’m trying to think of what I learned from that. Amy, I tried out for the eighth grade basketball team, and I told myself that I didn’t care if I didn’t make it. Then, of course, when I didn’t make it, it bothered me. I’m trying to think of whether that taught me something. I would say the only thing it taught me, which is important, I guess, is that I didn’t stay depressed for very long. It wasn’t that big of a deal. It was a bad three days, but then I went out and started shooting baskets. I guess that’s a lesson.
Dan Fouts 15:36
Yeah, that’s a good example. Did you have one in mind for me?
Steve Fouts 15:43
Don’t ask me to pick your failure.
Dan Fouts 15:47
Do you have one, Amy, while I think of mine?
Amy Patino 15:51
I’m pretty open with my students. I share all kinds of stupid things that I’ve done. I told them about my first year teaching. I stood on a chair to pull down the maps, and then I fell off the chair in front of my whole class.
Steve Fouts 16:10
Oh, my goodness,
Amy Patino 16:13
That has to be every new teacher’s nightmare. But, now it’s something that I look back on, and I think it’s funny. I also tell them about my journey into teaching. That was not the plan. They all think that life has to be charted. When I was their age, I was that AP kid, and I was supposed to do certain things, but I decided at the end of college that I didn’t want to go to law school. It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do. At times, it felt like a failure, because I was supposed to go to law school. When I decided not to, I didn’t have any idea what I was going to do. But, that took me on a different journey. I found a path that I never thought I would take. If you asked me when I was their age, if I was going to be a teacher, I would have laughed.
Dan Fouts 17:26
That’s interesting, Amy. That shows the kids that maybe this idea of failure is something we construct in our mind. We almost set ourselves up for disappointment by saying, if I don’t go to law school, I must be a failure. When you don’t go to law school, and you find teaching to be a passion, then you look back and realize that not going to law school wasn’t a failure. I chose a path that best suits me. That’s a great example. I love your teaching example, too. I would definitely tell the kids about my first few years of teaching. It was one failure after another. I was barely ahead of the kids, in terms of understanding the content, let alone trying to teach it to them. It was like I got addicted in order to survive. Kids love it when we are vulnerable. They really do.
Amy Patino 18:31
I honestly tell them that if they looked at the teacher I was then, compared to now, I would have fired me.
Steve Fouts 18:38 – Counterclaim
I know, it’s like that was a wasted year for the kids. They didn’t get a good professional for any of our first years. What has to be acknowledged here is that when kids look at adults, I think they don’t understand that we’re a product of failure. They see our abilities, and our successes. Even when they look at sports stars, they see greatness. They don’t see how it was built. It’s difficult to convey a message like this to people, but it has to be acknowledged. Some people just make it look easy. Let’s begin the counterclaim. Amy, we do this in different ways. We call it a counterclaim, but it can be counterclaims. We like playing with the quote, juxtaposing a word or two, and negating the quote to see if it makes sense. Let me try, because this is such a short quote. What if we said, do we learn from our successes? Do we learn from things that we’re good at, things that make us happy, things that make us feel accomplished? Or, is that just gloating? Can we learn from our successes?
Amy Patino 20:30
Absolutely. I think one of the reasons I became a teacher is it was the thing I was best at. You find what you’re good at, and there’s a way, with whatever you’re good at, to make a life out of it. I felt like my best subject was math, and I was told, you could be a math teacher or an engineer. It wasn’t presented to me in a way that I saw anything interesting about it. I’ve seen how students who are good at math and science tak all these different directions. I don’t think I’d like any of them. I don’t think I even like being a math teacher. I tell my students that in my class, two plus two doesn’t have to equal four, because it depends on you how you define your two things. If you have two cats and two apples, you don’t get four of either of them. You can take whatever you’re good at, and find something to do with it. We spend so much time trying to get them to define the term, and I found that was an easy way. You can get four, but you have to have the right definition.
Steve Fouts 22:08
You have to make up a new word. You have four animals.
Amy Patino 22:13
Or, four things. Especially in our discipline, something like failure, and the discussion we’re having here, can mean so many different things. You need to be clear about how you are defining the terms. In this class, there’s not a right answer. There’s your answer, and how you back it up.
Dan Fouts 22:38
How do you back it up? How do you reason it out? Yeah, that’s great. I was thinking of the idea of success, too. With the counterclaim, I think success can be a really good teacher for kids. One of the things I try to do as a teacher is to find moments in class where I can pinpoint something that a student does, something that made them a success on a project, or they said something in the discussion, or they wrote a really amazing paragraph. Then, I email them or compliment them in class so that kid understands that something worked. That’s something to build on. I find it fascinating to watch how students react to compliments when you say they’ve succeeded. Some of them, in a weird way, shut down. It’s almost like they don’t even process it. They’re not used to achieving success. They’re used to seeing themselves making mistakes. I think you have to help kids get used to seeing themselves as a success. They can build on that success. It’s a psychological thing.
Amy Patino 24:21
I kind of do the opposite with my on level and my AP kids. With my AP kids, I start the year by giving them really hard questions. Mainly because they haven’t been challenged that much before they get to me. They don’t do very well, but then I purposely make them easier, regular AP level as the year goes on. They see their grades go up and their confidence grows. Every year, they generally walk out feeling prepared. That’s all we can really hope for. With my on level kids, many haven’t experienced success. Early in the year, I try to give them things that I know are going to help them be successful. I try to build that up. You mentioned compliments, and that’s something I’ve been working harder at. I remember, it was a while ago now, where students said, you only put negative comments on my essays. I take so much time reading their essays, that I don’t want to waste my time on the things that are right, I want to focus on what they need to fix. I internalized that. I have to be more positive. I have to give them those compliments, and not always be negative.
Dan Fouts 26:04
It depends on the student. You have 21 years of experience, Amy, and this is my 29th year. Steve taught for 20 years. It takes a lot of years of experience to be able to read kids quickly, and understand their capacity to accept compliments, and criticism. The sooner we find that in a year, the more successful we will be.
Amy Patino 26:33
I find that if you single them out in class, that’s when they get shy about it. But, sending them an email sounds better. Nowadays, so much of what my students turn in is on Google Docs. I can send them a private message through that. At the end of the year, when I get notes from them, I really appreciate that. I think they like it private. They don’t like to be singled out in front of everybody.
Dan Fouts 27:03
Yes. Although some kids beam when you compliment them in class. But, you’re right. You have to be careful and know your crowd. Success is also a great teacher, and acknowledging those successes, too. I’m trying to think of something else for the counterclaim. Is there another good counterclaim? Or, is that a good one?
Steve Fouts 27:32
The thing that came to mind for me was an inventor. In a science class, if you want to try a curriculum connection, you can talk about inventors. You want to talk about a mixture of failure and success. That’s what inventing something means – you learn from how something doesn’t work and how something else works. You’re always going back and forth, and you’re iterating things. That’s an example of something that would call into question, the greatest teacher failure is. I don’t know if that’s the greatest teacher failure can teach us. It can hurt our self-esteem.
Dan Fouts 28:19
Yeah, that’s really good. Amy, I think you mentioned during the prep activity that you were thinking of using this quote with the Articles of Confederation? Did I read that correctly?
Amy Patino 28:34
It was something that popped into my head as an example that you could use. We tried something under the Articles of Confederation, and it didn’t work out. We learned to try something different. It’s something that you could use as a theme throughout American history. This is why we can amend the constitution, because this didn’t work well, and we need to make this change.
Dan Fouts 29:16
And, what did we learn? I used to teach U.S. History. What did we learn in the 1920s that we had to fix, or correct, in the 1930s. You can look at American History this way, or any history. There are always failures and responses to those failures. This is a theme you could carry into many different units.
Amy Patino 29:46
When you ask kids why do we study history, they always know the catchphrase, history repeats itself, or we can learn from the mistakes of the past. Whether they truly understand it, or they’re just repeating back what they’ve been told is two different things. That’s why when you asked which quote I was interested in, I thought this one had a lot of good applications to the discipline.
Dan Fouts 30:18 – Essential Question
Yeah. Agreed. This is excellent, Amy. We unpacked this well. I think we gave a good balance to the claim and the counterclaim. There are definitely possibilities with this quote. You can tap into the student’s personal experiences, and what’s meaningful to them. If you’re doing this in a history or English class, the kids can see themselves in the curriculum after having a conversation like this and are better able to connect with a character of a novel or understand the Constitutional Convention and the Articles of Confederation. We like to end with an essential question. Here’s one that you can leave with the kids to think about, or have them answer as an exit slip, which is often how I use these. Do you need to fail to learn? There’s another angle to this quote where students can take what they learned during the conversation to shape a personal response to that question. Amy, thank you so much for being our guest tonight. Your insights were much appreciated. We wish you the best of luck.
Amy Patino 31:38
Thank you. This was fun. I’ll pop you an email to let you know how the Henry David Thoreau’s civil disobedience conversation goes. I thought that would bea good one to start the year with, especially with everything that’s been going on outside of school, in the real world. That is one they’re going to be able to connect with.
Dan Fouts 32:00
Steve Fouts 32:01
Thanks so much, Amy. We appreciate it.
Amy Patino 32:03
Dan Fouts 32:04
Thanks, everybody. We hope you are walking away feeling energized by some great ideas, and are confident that 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 Conversation Library where we’ve compiled dozens of quotes, each with their own claim, counterclaim, and essential question. Good luck. And don’t forget to teach different with conversations and make a difference every day.