3 Ways to Turn Failure into Success with Bestselling Author Jessica Lahey

gift of failure - Hack Learning Podcast
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When you think New York Times Bestselling author, names like Stephen King, Suzanne Collins, and Malcolm Gladwell come to mind. Classroom teacher is not typically synonymous with New York Times bestseller–unless that classroom teacher is Jessica Lahey, author of the runaway hit, The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed.

In Episode 59 of the Hack Learning Podcast, Lahey explains the struggles that parents and teachers have with allowing kids to fail. She also shares 3 right now strategies to help you embrace failure and learn how to help kids channel it into success.

Why we struggle with failure

At time index 4:20 of Hack Learning Podcast Episode 59, Jessica Lahey explains why people struggle with failure and the notion that it can actually put kids on a path to success.

“According to Lahey, “We judge our parenting on how we judge our kids.”

Parents often encourage what Lahey calls “competitive parenting”. They boast about their children’s successes at school and in extracurriculars, which makes accepting failure difficult, Lahey explains. “We seem to whip each other up into a frenzy, so we don’t want to admit that our kid has failed at something.”

Sometimes, educators inadvertently contribute to our fear of failure, according to Lahey. Most phone calls to parents from school tend to be negative, instilling fear that student mistakes reflect poorly on parents.

We all want children to make it safely to adulthood, and it often feels as if it is all on us to make that happen.” -Jessica Lahey, The Gift of Failure

A story about letting kids fail

In Hack Learning Podcast Episode 59, at time index 6:45, Lahey shares how she first learned that allowing her son to fail ultimately meant teaching him to succeed and to become an independent learner.

Find your Mantra today

Lahey found out her son wasn’t turning in his homework even though he was doing the work. She learned that he was leaving it at home. In the past, she would deliver the work to him at school, but not this time. She realized that, “I am raising a kid who has issues and needs to come up with his own strategy for this organizational failing, and now is a perfect time for him to work that out for himself.”

How did Lahey’s decision to not deliver the homework impact her son? She explains at time index 8:00 in Episode 59 embedded above.

How parents and teachers can embrace failure as a path to success

Lahey has a wealth of lessons and suggestions about failure in her book, and she shares three with us in Episode 59:

1 – Think about long-term goals. Parents and educators often over-emphasize what Lahey calls the “short payoff moments”. While coming to kids’ rescue feels good, allowing them to suffer the consequences (no matter how difficult this may be at the time) can ultimately teach them a life lesson that they’ll carry into adulthood.

2 – Realize that progress ebbs and flows. “This is a long-haul thing,” Lahey says. “It’s not a moment to moment checking things off in terms of daily success.” (Listen to all Lahey’s tips for embracing failure at time Index 13:30 in Podcast Episode 59).

3 – Change how you communicate with all stakeholders about learning. As a teacher, Lahey told parents what was happening in class and how students were learning, rather than emphasizing grades. As a parent, she began asking specific questions about lessons, rather than simply saying, “How was school today?”


Jessica Lahey is a teacher, writer, and mom. She writes about education, parenting, and child welfare for The Atlantic, Vermont Public Radio, and the New York Times and is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed. She is a member of the Amazon Studios Thought Leader Board and developed the educational curriculum for The Stinky and Dirty Show, premiering September 2, 2016, and hosts the podcast #AmWriting with Jess & KJ, available at iTunes. Jessica earned a B.A. in Comparative Literature from the University of Massachusetts and a J.D. with a concentration in juvenile and education law from the University of North Carolina School of Law. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and two sons and teaches in Vermont.


The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed

The Stinky and Dirty Show

My podcast: “#AmWriting with Jess & KJ”!

Author page at the New York Times

Author page at The Atlantic

Author page at Vermont Public Radio

Grown and Flown: Parenting Never Ends — a blog recommendation from Jessica Lahey

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Author: Mark Barnes

Mark Barnes is a longtime educator and the Founder of Times 10, which produces the popular Hack Learning Series, the uNseries, and other books for teachers and learners. To connect with Mark follow @markbarnes19 on Twitter.

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