Mr. C’s mantra: ‘Think big, expect failure’
When Rolland Chidiac started teaching 15 years ago, he used a Palm Pilot to record assessments of students in his gym classes. Today he has a whole suite of digital tools he couldn’t even have fathomed back then. Chidiac, who teaches at Sir Edgar Bauer Catholic Elementary School in Waterloo, uses his love of technology to teach kids the powerful lesson that failure is just a necessary stepping stone to success.
I’ve always loved technology. I remember the first time they put a computer in my classroom, it was like a campfire. It was the central focus, the entire class gathered around it. When they let us use YouTube for the first time, I was on fire!
I’ve been a teacher for 15 years and in that time I’ve learned one of the most innovative and powerful ways to deliver the curriculum is through technology. Kids these days grow up surrounded by technology, picking up new devices is natural for them. But if you bump it up with activities that require a higher level of skill and thinking, the potential for growth and learning is exponential.
A couple years ago I was accepted as a Google Certified Innovator, which opened my eyes to new skills and technology. When we got a 3D printer in the classroom, I couldn’t wait to dive in. I told the kids since I was new at this, they were going to have to watch me fail – repeatedly – and they were going to learn with me.
As we gradually learned to use the tool throughout the year, I focused a lot of attention on the learning rather than the tool itself. Through the process, we learned important lessons about failure — we had to be constantly open to iteration, over and over until we figured it out. I think sometimes kids are scared to fail, they’re afraid to put in the hard work if they think it may not work out. But together we learned you can achieve whatever it is you want if you have the right mindset. Things happen, there is going to be failure, there’s going to be times where you’re not satisfied with what is happening. It’s about how you adjust and move forward.
That year I had the students work on personal projects, giving them time to work on something that interested them. In the last month, I wanted them to come up with a plan for a project that might address other people or the school community.
A group of four girls really wanted to connect with students in the hospital. They wanted kids who were sick and hospitalized to know that even though they were missing classes and going through a difficult time, someone was thinking about them. They decided to design necklaces that said “Believe,” which could be sent to sick kids along with a personal letter. There was a lot of planning and several iterations of the design, which didn’t work out at first. They kept pushing forward. In the end, they made six necklaces and they were sent to the local hospital. The kicker? These kids were only in Grade 4 and they were coming up with these awesome ideas all on their own and were so excited to work hard to see their projects succeed.
At the end of that first year, I had people coming into the classroom to check out the kids’ creations and discuss how their projects were related to the curriculum. I realized that just like the kids, I was nervous about failure and being judged by my colleagues. People came with a laundry list of questions. But it was great, because it gave us a chance to reflect on everything that we had worked for that year and accomplished, and all the ups and downs it took to get there. This turned into a whole activity on its own.
I think failure is a powerful lesson for kids to learn, or, more specifically, overcome. Anything is possible if you just step back, think critically, and make a plan. Failure is inevitable, but failure opens the door to learning and discovering something incredible. If failure’s going to happen, think big — what’s something awesome you want to accomplish? Technology is a great tool to help teach resilience — no matter what comes your way, you can adapt. It’s about expecting failure, knowing it’s going to happen and not letting it get in the way of your success.