Future proofing your education

I’m thinking about teaching, more importantly about how to sufficiently prepare my students for life outside of mandatory education. I read an interesting article on productivity in The Guardian a few weeks ago (ok November 2010!) which quoted an American blogger called Merlin Mann. His blog http://43folders.com heralded as one of the places to go to improve your working life. I visited and after some idle browsing settled on a post Merlin wrote in response to an email he’d received. The student who emailed him was asking if a podcast version of a recent talk was available and, although it was not, Merlin responded with a novella of advice on how to future proof your life.

This quote struck me:

“spend less time worrying about success and more time making really cool mistakes”

His reasoning behind this was that despite well formulated plans there is always the unfathomable chaos that twists and turns at the edges of everyones lives, occasionally throwing opportunities into our paths. If you remain tightly focussed on the original goal then you may miss something more rewarding or even just more fun. There is also the danger that the reward isn’t what you had originally envisaged and you end up facing a brick wall with a fistful of regrets and missed opportunities. Meanwhile those who put themselves into situations where they could try something new can draw on these experiences – good or bad – to move forward.

This idea is echoed in educational policy. Curriculum for Excellence heavily promotes breadth of pupil experience in order for them to be able to make more informed subject choices further up the school. Project based learning centred around themes give pupils opportunities to take risks during extended learning episodes, experience a mixture of success and failure but have time to reflect on this in order to move forward. National 4 and 5 drafts also promote project based portfolios for many subjects – which may seem alien to some but is increasingly what employers look for to separate the candidates! They want to see the application of concepts learned and the way each prospective employee copes when things go wrong.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison

The above quote resonates with what Merlin said, it even applies to this blog post! Started and abandoned a month or so ago I hit some issues with iPod apps (WordPress and iBlogger) losing saved work and publishing half baked blog drafts. After trying out a few more blog apps and changing my workflow to draft in a word processor WordPress finally release an update to make their app more stable – so I’m back at the start!! I wouldn’t go as far as to say I made some really cool mistakes along the way but failure has highlighted weaknesses in my own processes and allowed me to move forward (eventually!). These blog posts form part of my professional portfolio – allowing potential employers or collaborators the chance to read what I think as well as how I cope with the occasional crisis.

I wouldn’t have had as interesting a teaching career if I hadn’t worked in and faced the consequences of failure in industry as well as the ones I make in teaching. Celebrating mistakes such as accidentally destroying a £5m live database, over-zealous programming that caused a DoS attack and – yes – many others (if you want details you’ll have to join one of my classes!) and showing what can be learned from them gives pupils confidence to take risks, to accept responsibility more willingly and to become the innovators of tomorrow because – to them – failure should be the pebble that creates the ripples of success.


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