I have been called an “experiential learner” – that I need to fail, get hurt, and make mistakes in order to learn and change my behavior.  As an experiential learner I learn lessons the hard way, when I fail I feel the failure, it can often impact others and have negative consequences; but being an experiential learner isn’t all bad, as an experiential learner I take risks, I am not afraid to fail, I am reflective, I own my mistakes, and most importantly I learn from my errors and rarely do the same mistake twice!

My parents loved me to a fault, they “protected me” and “sheltered me” from feeling the consequences of my mistakes/choices thus I rarely learned from my mistakes. Growing up my mistakes were “taken care of for me”, never did I reflect over my errors in judgement or decisions or really feel any consequences thus I never changed my behavior.  

For example, I had a lead foot in my youth, I got more speeding tickets than I can count.  No one ever got hurt and every time I got a ticket my mom and dad would pay the ticket for me.  No harm, no foul was my attitude, I never felt the financial burden of all these tickets, thus as an experiential learner I never learned my lesson until I moved out of the house, got a job, received yet another speeding ticket, called my parents to get the money deposited in my account, and they didn’t pay the ticket!

Being an experiential learner has impacted my life both positively and negatively but it has drastically changed my reflection process.  It was the second year of my teaching career when I made the first significant screw up in my career!

It was a Thursday night in May, the next day my colleague and I would be taking 50 first graders on their last field trip of the year to Brookfield Zoo.  I had just gotten home from Meijer where I had bought snacks for the bus and bread to make extra PB&J sandwiches because inevitably one of my students would forget their lunch for the field trip.  Around 11:00 I finally was finally crawling into bed when it hit me – I had never contacted Brookfield Zoo about the field trip!!! I had arranged for chaperones, scheduled the bus, gotten district approval, received all my students’ permission slips, but never arranged the date/time with the zoo.  Pure panic set in, but I am a problem solver so I got out my computer to try to do a late electronic submission – no luck the zoo’s system wouldn’t process the request in less than 10 hours. So I found a phone number on the website and called that (my husband thought I was nuts calling a zoo at 11:00) but guess what – someone answered!!  It was the security guard so he wasn’t able to give me the clearance to show up tomorrow with 2 buses of students but he did give me the phone number of someone I could call in the morning before he zoo opened. Needless to say sleep didn’t happen that night as I was in a pure panic that the next morning I would need to march into my principals office and tell her about my HUGE mess up, which is exactly what I did.  Her response was what was I going to do about this – she knew me well and knew I would have a plan of action – we were going to get on the bus, and if I couldn’t ahold of anyone at the zoo by the time we got there I would explain at the gate my error, apologize and hope they let us in, if they didn’t let us in I would pay for everyone to get in as a worse case scenario. Long story short I was able to get a hold of someone during our commute to the zoo and they let us in with me only having to pay for chaperones.

The life lesson came when we had returned back from the field trip, I sat at the reading table in my classroom emotionally and physically exhausted from the past 24 hours and my principal sat down with me.  I immediately got nervous, I knew she was too understanding this morning – here came my punishment and notice that I would no be asked back to teach next year. But to my surprise she asked one simple question, “Katie, what lesson did you learn from this?”  My response was honest, “To let other people plan field trips”! HAHA then I said, I would create a checklists when scheduling field trips to make sure I have accurately completed all the requirements. She sat there quiet for a moment, then said I was still missing the point and she got out a piece of paper, on this document was a list of her career failures and what lessons she learned from this.  As I read over the document I realized that the lessons she learned were all those that could be applied to so many scenarios, not just one specific failure.

This was when I create my “Failure Resume”.  I add to my failure resume anytime I have a major error either personal or professional.  I have brought this document with me and shared it during interviews. I am proud of my resume, not because I have failed a lot, but because I believe the biggest successes in life come from failing, reflecting, and doing differently next time.

Over my career this really got me thinking, am I creating an environment, where as a teacher, my students feel supported in their failures or are they afraid to fail? Unfortunately, this is actually on my Failure Resume as I feel I did not have enough tools in my toolbox to help support students fully celebrate their failures or feel open to taking risks.  Central School District 301 has created a 100% online professional learning course to give teachers tools and lessons to implement immediately to help teach this process and celebrate the process and not the result. I can’t tell you how great this course is and how it benefits students AND teachers. https://kaneroe.gosignmeup.com/public/Course/browse?courseid=2580 – Did I mention it is only $40?!?!?

If you don’t have a Failure Resume I can’t encourage you enough to create one, for inspiration I will close with 3 of the items on my professional “Failure Resume”:

  1. Failure: Did not tell Zoo that we were coming to the zoo!
    Lesson Learned: Complete an entire task then move on to the next. You will accomplish more, feel more productive and have less errors in your tasks.
  1.   Failure: Did not meet a deadline given to give master schedule to staff for following year.
    Lesson Learned: Everything takes longer to complete than expected.  Look at calendar, plan at least 2 weeks in advance and schedule time in calendar to complete required items.
  1.  Failure: Had to present at a statewide conference, the speakers that were provided to me were horrible, no one could hear my audio which was vital to understanding my presentation.
    Lesson Learned: Always be prepared for anything.  Bring back up speakers, computer, dongles, wifi pack, etc..

What’s on your Failure Resume?!?!


Katie Algrim – Director of Innovative Professional Learning

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