Allowing Your Students to Fail

Written By: Lance Piatt

By: Nathan Paulsberg

One of the best teaching tools we can utilize for our students is allowing them to fail… in a safe manner, of course.“Fail forward” is the mantra of a great many motivational speakers nowadays, and it should also be ours as instructors.

Too many times while teaching have I seen an instructor, anxious and ready to prove his knowledge to the students. He knows what the student is thinking even before he does, and before the student has time to act, he jumps in and shows him the error of his ways, once again saving the day and showing his vast wealth of super rope rigging knowledge. The instructor thinks he is helping the student, but in actuality, by not allowing him to fail or make his own mistakes is doing him a great disservice.

Allowing students to fail 2During SPRAT training, be it a level I or II or III, the students who I am often least concerned for on their Friday evaluation are the ones who may have struggled a little during the week. Maybe they failed miserably at a long rebelay or a rescue situation. But then on Friday they usually shine and turn all those struggles from the week into a rock solid performance. The students who perform great all week, and never have a problem are the ones I am concerned for. They have never had that failure during the week, felt what it is like to simply do the wrong thing, and then have to adapt and overcome it. Those are the moments in which they learn the most, having to think outside the step-by-steps given to them and use what they have between their ears to overcome their dilemma.

The moments I have learned the most in my career are when I have failed at something and then been able to improvise, adapt, and overcome that failure and turn it into a positive. That being said, it’s not easy. It’s not easy as an instructor to resist jumping in immediately and correcting our students. I get it, the OCD, attention to detail, super rope rigging guy inside of me wants to jump in there as much as you do. It’s a conscious decision to sit back and observe, let them struggle a little; maybe let them fail as well, because this is how they will learn. So let your students fail forward…. in a safe manner, of course.

Nathan Paulsberg
Elevated Safety LLC.


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