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As an educator, you do everything you can to help students succeed, but you also know that students will inevitably experience occasional failures at home and in the classroom. How you react to those failures will ultimately determine how a child deals with failing and will also affect the lessons he or she may take away from the experience. You need to understand the different types of failure and learn how to appropriately respond to each type before you can effectively help students cope with and learn from failures.

Types of Failure

Paul LeBuffe, Director of the Devereux Center for Resilient Children, recently discussed the different types of failure in his guest blog post for MetroKids. Based on an article by Amy Edmondson in the April 2011 issue of the Harvard Business Review, LeBuffe groups nine different reasons for failure into the following three categories:

1. Preventable Failures

The types of failure categorized as “preventable” are the ones in which children do not do what they know is expected of them to be successful. Not completing assignments on time, failing to take notes or study for tests, and not following classroom rules are a few examples of preventable failures in the classroom.

Appropriate Response: When preventable failures occur, you should make sure that students clearly understand classroom expectations. Once a clear understanding of classroom expectations is established, ensure that students understand the procedures that will help them successfully meet expectations. If a student does poorly on a test, for example, make sure they know that they were supposed to study and that they know how to effectively prepare for tests.

Learning Strategies: Encourage students to use task checklists, to-do lists, planners, and calendars to help them avoid preventable failures. Using these and other organizational tools gives children opportunities to be responsible and accountable. Depending on the age of your students, you may want to write reminders or keep a class to-do list on a whiteboard or bulletin board for everyone to see. Be sure to acknowledge and reward any improvements and successes when they occur.

2. Goals that Spin Out of Control

This failure category includes well-intentioned goals that begin well but eventually spin out of control due to complications and unexpected circumstances. These failures usually occur when students start a project but fail to consider all of the details and requirements of the project. A student who picks a science project and fails to complete it due to unexpected requirements is one example of how this type of failure may occur in the classroom.

Appropriate Response: Failures that are grouped in this category are usually caused by a lack of preparation and foresight, so the best way for you to address these failures is by helping students learn to better prepare and plan for any complications that may occur when they begin a new project. If a student wants to start a new club at school, for example, make sure they think of who they can ask to be an advisor and how they can encourage other students to join.

Learning Strategies: Teach children how to write a project plan to help them think of any complications that may arise. Learning to plan ahead and prepare for unexpected issues gives students opportunities to practice and develop their planning and management skills.

3. Stretch Assignments

The types of failures categorized as “stretch assignments” usually occur when students push themselves out of their comfort zones to try something new or work hard to move to the next level. Examples of stretch assignment failures include students taking a more advanced class at school but not doing very well in the class and students failing to make the team when they try out for a school sports team.

Appropriate Response: You should never react negatively to these types of failures. If a student tries something new and fails, see if you can help the student determine why they may have failed. It’s also important for you to reassure students that failing at one thing doesn’t mean they won’t find something they excel at in the future. Reinforce the idea that trying new things is beneficial to students’ futures.

Learning Strategies: Stretch assignment failures ultimately result in personal growth and development because experimentation helps children learn more about themselves. Encourage students to analyze what went well and what didn’t in their stretch assignment failures. Understanding their own strengths, talents, and limitations can greatly help students as they grow and plan for the future.

Now that you have a better understanding of the types of failures and how to respond to each type, make an effort in your classroom to intentionally turn failures into learning opportunities for students. Keep in mind that helping children learn from failures will also increase their resilience and help them develop self-regulation skills. Conscious Discipline® resources are a great way to promote social-emotional learning and the development of self-regulation skills in the classroom. Be sure to also browse our selection of Devereux Assessments if you’re looking for ways to assess the social-emotional competence of the students in your care.

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