Professional failures and what we can learn from them


This post is based on my presentation at #WomenEdWM in Coventry. It was a great day - thanks @mariaalex‍ @misswilsey‍ and everyone involved in its organisation.  I love #womened events - the energy, empathy and mutual support.

I taught for 30 years, holding seven different jobs across six schools.  I loved my career and found it rewarding, even joyful, especially headship, which offers the opportunity to make a difference to the lives of children, and adults, on an unprecedented scale.  But although I was appointed to seven jobs, I had 21 interviews, so was unsuccessful at interview twice as often as I was successful.  And those were just the interviews - I couldn't count the number of other jobs I'd applied for.  So I've experienced failure many times, and I've been reflecting on what I learned from it.

If you think about the most powerful learning experience of your life, I suspect you may choose something where you failed, at least initially.  I'm convinced failure teaches us more than success.  Failure is one of those words which can make us uncomfortable, something we don’t really want to think about/face, something we don’t often specifically refer to in conversations with the pupils we teach, or with our children. But I don’t agree that "there is no such thing as failure – only deferred success". I think we have to accept we don’t always succeed - even if we try try again. There are some things we don’t manage despite our best efforts, and helping those we care about to cope with disappointment when they don’t achieve something they really want is an important part of what schools and parents do. It’s a key part of our education, and of growing up. In our professional roles, it's something we need to support colleagues with, too.

Perfectionism, in young people and our colleagues, can be quite unhealthy, and striving for it can make us frustrated and miserable. Dealing with our limitations and imperfections is crucial - because we are all fallible. So a healthy sense of balance and the resilience to cope with the fact that they won’t succeed in absolutely everything they try to do in their lives is something we very much want for the young people we care about and those we work alongside. It's natural to want to protect others and to shield them from pain/disappointment, when what we need to do is help them develop the tools they need to cope (without us one day).

So think about this: Failures lies not in falling down, but in not getting up.

Can we help others failure as an inevitable step, an unavoidable step – actually a desirable step because of what it teaches us?  The danger is that it deters us forever. The hope is that it galvanizes us to learn from it, to grow as a result, and to do all we can to build on it and realise our hopes and dreams.

Don't let failure stop you!

Photo: @MattGovernor @mattyoung‍ 

Author Profile

Jill Berry

Jill Berry

Former head, now an educational consultant. Interested in supporting aspiring leaders at all levels.

53 stories


[Retired Colleague] [Retired Colleague] [Retired Colleague] 9 months ago
So important to talk about failures as in business few teachers see automatic overnight success. Teachertoolkit did a good blog on his journey to DHT and the variety of experiences he learnt from
Jill Berry Jill Berry @jillberry 9 months ago
Thanks, @mshmfl. I think some of the things I learnt include:

1. the importance of leaders who disappoint candidates being fair, empathetic and constructively supportive
2. that failure at interview doesn't mean you can't do the job, or do it well, just that someone else is deemed to be a BETTER match for what the selection panel want, and
3. that sometimes not getting a job, even though you're disappointed, might mean that it ISN'T right for you, even though you think it is. A better job might be out there...
Hannah Wilson Hannah Wilson @misswilsey 9 months ago
Another brilliant key note & blog Jill. The video nearly made me cry - powerful metaphor. X
Jill Berry Jill Berry @jillberry 9 months ago
Thanks, @misswilsey - and the video DOES make me cry, every time I see it!
Jill Berry Jill Berry @jillberry 9 months ago
(if anyone wants me to send them a link to the video clip, just email me
Kate Sawyer Kate Sawyer @dorastar 8 months ago
So true, often we need someone to help us get up from our failures and put them in perspective.
Shirley Drummond Shirley Drummond @sdrummond 8 months ago
Would have loved to have attended thus Jill.. failures make us reflect , review, recharge and one day we are rewarded!
Jill Berry Jill Berry @jillberry 8 months ago
But you can't go to everything @sdrummond - and you do fit in a lot! Hope to speak soon - have a really good break and hope you manage a REST.
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