Creating a Classroom Where Students are Comfortable Losing and Learning from Defeat


“There is no failure except in no longer trying.” – Elbert Hubbard


“I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan



As teachers, we want our students to develop a mindset that includes hope, optimism, and resilience. When students have those things, they will believe that it’s worth their time to try hard and put forth effort. So how can we create an environment where students truly understand that they can learn from defeat and look at “failure” as a learning opportunity?


If you want your classroom to be an encouraging space where students feel safe, start by asking yourself the following:


How do you react when a student makes an error?

Do you celebrate errors as opportunities to learn?

Do you take time to celebrate successes as well?

Do you reward students for performance, behavior, or both?


What you can do:


Allow your students opportunities to try again

Doing this will help them see that failure isn’t permanent, and that there are more chances to be had.


Model how to appropriately respond to failure

The next time you make a mistake (or you can make a mistake on purpose) point it out! Show your students your error, laugh at it, and celebrate it. Be the example for your students to emulate.


Share stories of well known people that turned their failures into successes

  • Michael Jordan was told he was not good enough to be on his high school’s varsity basketball team, and was instead put on the junior varsity team.
  • James Dyson (of Dyson vacuum) made 5,126 prototypes over 15 years before creating his popular bag-less vacuum. He now has a net worth of $4.5 billion.
  • A newspaper editor told Walt Disney that he lacked imagination and had no good ideas. Walt went on to create some of the most well-known cultural icons.
  • Albert Einstein didn’t talk until he was four and couldn’t read until he was seven. He won a Nobel Prize, and altered the world’s understanding and approach to physics.
  • Dr. Seuss, arguably one of the most well-known children’s authors, had his first book rejected by 27 different publishers. Those books went on to sell more than 600 million copies worldwide.


Praise and encourage efforts

This reframes success as the result of effort, and not because of natural ability.


Emphasize the power of YET

Add the word ‘yet’ to the end of your sentences, and get your students in the habit of doing so too.

Saying “I can’t do this.” turns into “I can’t do this YET.”

Saying “I don’t understand this.” turns into “I don’t understand this YET.”

Saying “I’m not good at this.” turns into “I’m not good at this YET.”


Remind yourself to praise your student’s efforts

Write reminders to yourself on Post-it notes and stick them by your desk or on your lesson plans as a reminder to praise your student’s efforts each day.


Share your own stories of failure

Being relatable with your students helps to build their trust and strengthen relationships. Think of times when you lost a game or struggled to accept defeat. Be sure to talk about how to handled yourself, how you dealt with your feelings, and how you learned from the experience.


Help students set small goals, and celebrate when they achieve them

Having big goals is great, but sometimes too big of goals can be overwhelming. Help your students create small, attainable goals that can help them work towards the larger goal they have in mind. Remember to write the small and large goals down, and be sure to celebrate each one they achieve!