Reflecting on Failure and Success: Guest Blog

Part of our professional learning plan includes two book studies around the social/emotional and behavioral learning of students.  The following reflection was written by one of our county’s school psychologists, Janet Armil, after participating in one such event.

The Takeaway from Paul Tough’s

How Children Succeed:  Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character


guest blog entry by

Janet L. Armil, School Psychologist


I joined this Book Study because weeks before it was announced, I had volunteered to discuss persistence with a group of parents who bring their children to Saturday School, a positive, voluntary, pearl of a Tier 2 intervention offering drop-in one-to-one tutoring to any BPS student in any subject area or need for two hours most Saturdays during the school year.  I knew from my teaching days that drive and persistence contributed more to academic success than IQ, and had even presented that concept to a gym-full of elementary school parents in my nervy first year as a school psychologist, but I knew I needed to research this topic again, and find a good resource.  So, when I received the last call for this Book Study, I signed up, hoping it would help.  I got so much more than a resource:  I got a life-changing understanding of phenomena I had observed as a school psychologist for which I had formulated only the most rudimentary explanations.  This Book Study gave me a growth experience, not a reading selection.

Here is the takeaway:

The ACE study, brought to life:  Adverse childhood experiences form your life path, right down to your adult health.  Ever feel the pain of offering a troubled 15-year-old everything you’ve got while watching him/her slip away despite both of your best efforts to engage and make good?

High L-G parenting, or an ounce of prevention:  Teaching parents at risk how to develop attachment with their infants is step one in reducing ACEs, and there is no substitution for it.  How many times do we have to be shown that money up front will pay for itself many times over?  Through the findings of some unlikely rat studies, from which the term “high licking-and-grooming parenting” is taken, we see how the mechanisms of secure attachment equip babies to handle adversity for a lifetime.

New respect for the humble marshmallow:  I will never, ever look at a marshmallow the same way again.  How children resisted the temptation of a nice, fluffy, sweet and inviting marshmallow tells us more about what it takes to work hard, delay gratification, and persevere than a raft of Ed. School textbooks and articles.

Our own Chris Peterson:  The work of the late Dr. Peterson, founder of the Center for Positive Psychology at the University of Michigan, will get you over whatever your quibbles may be with the term “character”, and bring you to a list of traits you will recognize if you have ever been through graduate school.  (Dr. Peterson and his colleague, Dr. Nansook Park, presented a workshop last August through the OS-MISD Psychology Series.  If you were there, you know it was purely lovely.)

Failure is required:  Really.  More specifically, learning to manage failure is how we grow.  The importance of failure recurs throughout this book, but one discussion in particular will help you truly understand the rescue reflex, of which we so deeply despair in high SES parents.

Have you ever done an autopsy?  Some of us have conducted autopsies with students of their socio-behavioral mishaps, but a teacher of chess uses grinding game autopsies to reinforce how to think in kids never before challenged with this particular life-changing charge.  This is the first description of teaching executive functions I have ever found credible.

It’s so easy:  Not!  We are all happiest when we are learning.  If we aren’t challenged, we do not develop.  It really is as simple as that.  See “Failure is required”, above.

Politics:  Somewhere in the last quarter of the 20th century, poverty was politically hitched to education.  This was a revelation to me!  Haven’t you wondered how in the heck we came to be blamed for all of our country’s ills?  You will learn why poverty and education are, as they say, two different things, despite their obvious connections.

The cost of violence:  No matter your politics, never let it be said that witnessing and living with violence carries little personal or societal cost.  Indeed, it is very expensive.  Tough’s stories of Fenger High on Chicago’s south side are echoed to an almost uncanny degree in an unrelated, recently broadcast, two-part radio series on Harper High you can find online in the archives of This American Life.  If you read this book first, then listen to these two episodes, you will get on the other side, and you will be different.  

And when there is the promise of a storm,

if you want change in your life,

walk in to it.

If you get on the other side,

you will be different.

And if you want change in your life,

and you’re avoiding the trouble,

you can forget it.

So wade on in the water,

it’s gonna be really troubled water.

Prelude to Wade in the Water

Sweet Honey in the Rock


2 thoughts on “Reflecting on Failure and Success: Guest Blog

  1. Two underlying principles which support de-demonizing failure are ” realism” and “accommodation”. Understanding that our brains, souls and bodies have the capacity to adapt to and integrate failure (growth), leads to “patience” with life processes and with our self-concept. Understanding that “failure” is a component of every process is realistic. Realism leads to patience; patience and persistence to resolution, evolution, competency and self-reliance.

  2. Beautiful guest blog entry. Loved it!

    Jane Strunck Special Education Consultant District & Student Services 248.209.2051 FAX 248.209.2109

    Confidentiality Notice: This e-mail message or facsimile transmission, including any attachments, is for the sole use of the intended recipient(s) and may contain confidential and privileged information. Unauthorized review, use, disclosure, distribution, or copying is prohibited. If you are not the intended recipient or the employee or agent responsible for delivering the message to the intended recipient, please contact the sender immediately by reply e-mail or telephone and (1) delete the e-mail message from your computer or (2) return the original facsimile to the sender at Oakland Schools, 2111 Pontiac Lake Rd., Waterford, Michigan 48328, via the United States Postal Service. Thank you. ________________________________________

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