“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”
– Robert F. Kennedy

How can we learn from failure?
How do you react when you experience failure?
How do you feel when you do badly in an assessment?
Do you make a judgement about your ability based on a result?
Is the obstacle, setback or failure proof that you don’t have the ability to succeed?


Carol Dweck, a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, has studied the reactions people have to failure.

Fixed Mindset

Amongst her findings, she has discovered that when people attribute failures to their worth as a person, and as a finite measure of their ability, it leads to increased levels of anxiety and the tendency to avoid challenges that may result in further failure. She calls this a ‘fixed mindset’ – the way we think about ourselves can’t be challenged or improved.

Growth Mindset

Professor Dweck suggests there is a different, more constructive way to approach failure, obstacles and setbacks. She encourages us to think about our talents and abilities as being constantly developing, and challenges, such as assessments, as good ways to try out our skills and help us get smarter. The results we get from assessments can give us information about ourselves that we can use to learn and set new goals for the future. This approach is what she calls a ‘growth mindset’.

In this ‘growth mindset’ way of thinking, our ability is not set and we can develop our abilities, skills and knowledge through hard work, strategic planning, with help and mentoring from others.

Reframe Your Thinking

Can you react to failure in a constructive way? How can you reframe failure so that it enhances your learning?

Dweck says you can reframe your thinking about failure by asking yourself these questions:

  • What is this teaching me?
  • Where should I go next?
  • Should I talk to the teacher about how I can learn this better?
  • Can I make a commitment to improve my efforts and develop a strategy to learn this better?
  • What did I do well?
  • How does this assessment give me information about how I can change my practices to learn new things?

Over the school holidays, spend some time thinking about how you can modify your reaction to failure, and how you can use it as motivation to learn, grow and achieve everything you are capable of.

You can watch this short video for more information about Prof Dweck and her research.

– Emily Lockhart, Head of Lighthouse Curriculum

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