Tuesday, 5 February 2013

I learned by failing

It finally happened to me. I thought I had time. I figured at least twenty more years and several more gray hairs. No. It happened two days ago at Shaws Grocery Store.

I had to make a return trip to the grocery store on Super Bowl Sunday to purchase Avocados that were ripe. Earlier in the day I had purchased Avocados and soon found out that they were a few days away from being ripe. I went to Shaws, purchased three ripe Avocados, and proceeded to the “12 Item or Less” self-checkout lane. I'll usually go to the clerk when I have produce because I feel like I can never find what I am looking for and I hate to hold up the fast lane. Normally, it would have been a quiet Sunday at Shaws, but it was two hours before the start of the Super Bowl. The checkout lines were vaguely reminiscent of the lines to get in the Superdome in New Orleans. 

As it came time for me to checkout, I felt the pressure of the five people queued up behind me with their items. Normally, I am fine in these situations, however; I had a quick flashback to my days as a checkout boy. I always dreaded the random produce lookup. And now, here I was about to enter that turf again. I was going to have to quickly find the avocados, enter the amount, and check out. 

I completed all of these tasks rather quickly and then scanned my card and completed the standard prompts. After I got through these prompts, I waited. And waited. My brow started to bead up as I could see the people behind me checking their phones and watches for the time. Each letting out a subtle sigh in my general direction. I continued to wait while the machine processed. Then, I felt a tap on my left arm. A voice followed that said, “You have to push the Credit Card button on the screen so it can finish.” I pressed the button, the transaction finished, and my receipt printed. My face red, my countenance feigning coolness. 

As I walked away, I realized that I had failed my line. I stood there and waited for the technology to work for me. I didn’t ask anyone how to get things working because I was too proud. I know technology! It’s my thing. It’s all over my resume. How could I lower myself to ask a question with my credentials in the category of technology and education?  But my simple pride, in this moment, cost my line some time. Trivial time, no less, but still, the situation stayed with me as I walked out among the snack-purchasing masses. 

Over the course of a weekend where I failed my line, the lights temporarily failed at the Super Bowl in New Orleans, and I read a study published out of Queensland University of Technology on “Why parents need to let their children fail”, I felt like I was in good company. What I learned from all three of these events is that we can learn a lot from not knowing or being right. As educators, there is a stigma that we are all knowing and should never seem intellectually vulnerable in front of students. While I agree that we should all be competent in our subjects, I disagree that we should expect to be perfect. It’s just not healthy. 

What prevents us from trying something new- whether that something is trying new application, asking a student how to AirPlay an iPad, or a designing a new pedagogical approach- is our fear of that something not working correctly. We want and demand perfection. And there’s nothing wrong with that. More often than not we stay home and stay safe, in our comfort zones. I could have easily went to the line with the checkout clerk and knew immediately that the onus of ringing up the three avocados would be passed off to someone else. 

However, I took a simple risk despite the pressure of growing lines and the chance that I would not succeed. I was cocky and thought I knew it all. I didn't need anyone to help me. I get technology. We speak the same language. But, I was wrong, however; I quickly learned because someone interjected to help me. And I was thankful for her assistance. Maybe if we took more risks in our classrooms, even at the cost of it not working correctly, immediately, maybe our students wouldn't be so hesitant to strive to draw outside the lines occasionally to create or share something great, something new. This is the school culture we need to develop. Schools need a culture where students and teachers take calculated risks and ask more questions in order to further their learning. 

What I remember most about this simple trip to Shaws for three avocados is that I learned something new. I learned that when I swipe my checkcard before pressing the button on the screen, nothing will process. I also learned that things, especially technology, don't always go as you planned. Even on the biggest stage in sports and television, technology will go awry. If I had selected the line I always go in with a sales clerk, nothing would have changed and I would have never had the opportunity to share this novel story. 

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