Take Notes with Jen Rafferty

Embracing failure as a path to success with Theresa MacPhail

March 21, 2024 Jen Rafferty Season 3 Episode 22
Embracing failure as a path to success with Theresa MacPhail
Take Notes with Jen Rafferty
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Take Notes with Jen Rafferty
Embracing failure as a path to success with Theresa MacPhail
Mar 21, 2024 Season 3 Episode 22
Jen Rafferty

As educators, we've all seen the fear in our students when they're afraid to make a mistake, the anxiety that bubbles up at the thought of failing. We can recognize it in ourselves too.


It's a common experience..


So how do we help our students understand that failure isn't just a part of learning, but a crucial step toward growth? 


Join me and my guest, Theresa MacPhail, as we explore the power of embracing failure in education. Theresa, a medical anthropologist and seasoned educator, shares her journey from witnessing the effects of fear of failure on students to creating a class specifically designed to normalize failure and foster resilience.


Tune in and discover actionable advice for educators on how to create a classroom culture where failure is not feared but celebrated as a learning opportunity. 


You’ll walk away with practical classroom management strategies that can help students shift their mindset about failure through journaling exercises, gratitude practices, and encouraging meaningful connections and conversations.


If you've ever struggled with how to encourage your students to take risks, make mistakes, and learn from them, this episode is for you. Discover how to empower your students to see failure not as a setback, but as a necessary and valuable part of their educational journey. 


Stay empowered,
Jen

Let’s keep the conversation going! Find me at:
Jen Rafferty | Instagram, YouTube, Facebook | Linktree
Instagram: @jenrafferty_
Facebook: Empowered Educator Faculty Room


About Theresa:

I’m a medical anthropologist and writer, usually of nonfiction, mostly about topics in public health and medicine. I’m also an Associate Professor of Science & Technology Studies at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ. 


My first book for Random House is out now (2023). It’s called Allergic: Our Irritated Bodies In a Changing World and it tells the story of the global rise in allergies over the last 200 years. 


My next book, that I’m currently researching, is on aging. It dives into what happens to our bodies and minds as we age and why acceptance of aging (and our eventual deaths) is the key to “aging well.” Think of it like a “user’s manual” to your aging body (with a lot of troubleshooting sections). But, more importantly, it also traces out the long history of our fascination with aging and how and why aging transformed from a natural, normal, and healthy life experience into a medical problem or disease that needs to be “solved.” And what that approach to aging is doing to us collectively. (Spoiler: it’s not terrific.)


To book me for a speaking engagement, please contact the Random House Speakers Bureau.


Connect with Theresa:

Website: https://theresamacphail.com/

IG: https://www.instagram.com/drtheresamacphail/


Show Notes Transcript

As educators, we've all seen the fear in our students when they're afraid to make a mistake, the anxiety that bubbles up at the thought of failing. We can recognize it in ourselves too.


It's a common experience..


So how do we help our students understand that failure isn't just a part of learning, but a crucial step toward growth? 


Join me and my guest, Theresa MacPhail, as we explore the power of embracing failure in education. Theresa, a medical anthropologist and seasoned educator, shares her journey from witnessing the effects of fear of failure on students to creating a class specifically designed to normalize failure and foster resilience.


Tune in and discover actionable advice for educators on how to create a classroom culture where failure is not feared but celebrated as a learning opportunity. 


You’ll walk away with practical classroom management strategies that can help students shift their mindset about failure through journaling exercises, gratitude practices, and encouraging meaningful connections and conversations.


If you've ever struggled with how to encourage your students to take risks, make mistakes, and learn from them, this episode is for you. Discover how to empower your students to see failure not as a setback, but as a necessary and valuable part of their educational journey. 


Stay empowered,
Jen

Let’s keep the conversation going! Find me at:
Jen Rafferty | Instagram, YouTube, Facebook | Linktree
Instagram: @jenrafferty_
Facebook: Empowered Educator Faculty Room


About Theresa:

I’m a medical anthropologist and writer, usually of nonfiction, mostly about topics in public health and medicine. I’m also an Associate Professor of Science & Technology Studies at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ. 


My first book for Random House is out now (2023). It’s called Allergic: Our Irritated Bodies In a Changing World and it tells the story of the global rise in allergies over the last 200 years. 


My next book, that I’m currently researching, is on aging. It dives into what happens to our bodies and minds as we age and why acceptance of aging (and our eventual deaths) is the key to “aging well.” Think of it like a “user’s manual” to your aging body (with a lot of troubleshooting sections). But, more importantly, it also traces out the long history of our fascination with aging and how and why aging transformed from a natural, normal, and healthy life experience into a medical problem or disease that needs to be “solved.” And what that approach to aging is doing to us collectively. (Spoiler: it’s not terrific.)


To book me for a speaking engagement, please contact the Random House Speakers Bureau.


Connect with Theresa:

Website: https://theresamacphail.com/

IG: https://www.instagram.com/drtheresamacphail/


Jen Rafferty  
Are you caught in the whirlwind of overwhelming responsibilities, and as the very thought of Monday morning sent chills down your spine? Well, it's time to toss those fillings out the window. Welcome to Season 3 of the Take Notes podcast, where you get to make yourself a priority in order to show up as your best self. I'm your host Jen Rafferty, former music teacher, emotional intelligence practitioner, mom of two, and founder of Empowered Educator and I've been where you are. In this season, we're not just talking about surviving, we are diving deep into thriving. Are you ready to take the lead in your life? Well, let's do this. 

Jen Rafferty  
Hello, and welcome back to another fabulous episode of Take Notes. Today, I have with me, Theresa MacPhail and Theresa is a medical anthropologist and writer, usually of nonfiction, mostly in public health and medicine and is an associate professor of Science and Technology Studies at Stevens' Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey. And I heard about Theresa actually on one of my favorite podcasts of Freakonomics. And Theresa has incredible insight and a whole course now that she teaches about failure, and I wanted to share her expertise. So thank you so much, Theresa, for being here today.

Theresa MacPhail  
Thank you. Thanks for having me. I'm excited to have this conversation.

Jen Rafferty  
Yeah. It's important and let's just dive right in. I want to know why you discovered or thought that failure was something that really needed more attention in this explicit way that you've been creating for you and your students?

Theresa MacPhail  
Kind of a tragic backstory. Over the years, I've been teaching in some capacity since around 2008. That's when I started as a TA in my grad school program. And now I'm an associate professors, I've had 12 to 15 years under the belt in the classroom. And I had been noticing over the last, let's say, five or 10 years, there seems to be an uptick in anxiety, there seems to be an uptick in depression. And especially lately, there seems to be a massive problem with students being able to organize their time, kind of freezing up not turning in assignments at all, like something was different. And I didn't think it was just generation shift. 

Theresa MacPhail  
So there was a lot of focus on social media. And I'm sure that part of it, I don't want to dismiss that angle of this, because I think it's obviously playing some sort of role. But I thought it was going deeper than that. And it was something about our culture that just wasn't sitting well with the younger generation. So we had a spate of suicides in 2017, 2018, that academic year. And we're pretty small school, and we had five students take their own lives. And that was quite shocking for such a small community. And one of those students was my student. I had her in my global health class. 

Theresa MacPhail  
She was engaged, lively, and there were no outward signs of any struggle she did well in my class. And it really shocked me and I spent a lot of time thinking about it. But later that same year, another student took her life immediately after doing everything she needed to do to graduate. So she had gone through all of her exam. And she left this note, and the only reason I know about the note is because her best friend was my advisor. And so she related to me what was in this note, and it was tragic. This girl felt though as though the best years of her life were behind her, and that she was destined to fail at everything she tried going forward, that this was the height of her life. And that all she could hope to do with disappoint everyone going forward. 

Theresa MacPhail  
And that for me was a real wake up call. Because I thought I knew that they were afraid to fail. But I didn't really realize how deep that fear of the future ran with them. And I thought clearly that fail better fail faster. Like all the stuff that we usually do about failure isn't working. They're clearly not thinking that they're capable or resilient, that if they do fail, that will be fine, that there's this sense that any wrong move and their whole life is going to be a stack of cards that just crumbles in front of them. And I said, what can I do? And so that's when I started thinking about should I teach one of these happiness classes? 

Theresa MacPhail  
Because Yale started the trend with their happiness class, and I thought well, but then I'm gonna be honest with you. I thought, isn't that just another thing you're gonna fail at? Most of us fail at being happy. I don't know about you, but I certainly not happy all the time. If happiness is the project of life, I'm definitely failing. And so I thought, I don't want to do that. What can I do? What if I called it failure 101? What if I did a class that tried to normalize failure, and on evidence based tools and techniques to instill resiliency and attack it from all these eight angles, because usually when we talk about failure, it's in business classes, and they're talking about the failure of Enron. And that just wasn't cutting it. So I started this class it I talked about on Freakonomics that you've heard about.

Jen Rafferty  
That story, as tragic as it is. Treating this catalyst for change in this way is so powerful. I think you're right, having a focus on the stuff on the other side, right? The success, the happiness, the tools to feel, XYZ are all well and good. But if we're not actually speaking the language of the people who are feeling the feelings, we're missing the mark. And so I would love to know, you said you kind of attack failure and all these different angles, can you share a few of those ways in which we can look at failure as being something different than we might have realized or been brought up with.

Theresa MacPhail  
Sure. I do a lot of work to show them how, for most failures, they're not black and white failures. Thing about something like a divorce, is that a failure or not? A lot of people would say not, especially if you learned from it, and you might have two or three gorgeous children that you got out of that relationship. And so we spend some time saying, Okay, what if the friendship fails, like the likelihood that they're going to keep the same friend group that they had in college, most of us will keep maybe one or two of our college friends and then years later, so is that a failure? Did you do something wrong? Or is that just normal life? 

Theresa MacPhail  
And so looking at theories of friendships, theories of identity, talking about how culture influences what we think of as success anyway, so one of the most productive things I have them do is work together in groups to come up with the standard American life narrative. What are you supposed to do, by what age from birth, cradle to grave, and it's a really productive exercise for them, because we map it all out on a whiteboard. And even while they're doing it, they'll say something like, we should buy a house. And then immediately they're like, but look at the situation today, we're not going to be able to afford a house. 

Theresa MacPhail  
And you can feel the anxiety and angst the building up in them when they're looking at this narrative. And then I asked them, so if you don't do this, are you a failure? And they obviously say no. And I said, but do you feel the pressure to live according to this narrative that you inherited, and they all can see how it's driving their anxiety, to just things like that, like getting them to see that these definitions of what failure are, is not really, it's usually not individual, we usually inherit them. And so getting them to rethink their own values, and what they're doing is great. 

Theresa MacPhail  
And we also talk about how some people are better at this than other like scientists have to get really good at failure, because that's all they do 98% of experiments are done. And if you're not able to handle that, you're gonna not be able to handle being a scientist. Engineering, and like how many startups fail in the first year, how many small businesses fail in the first year, you've got to be able to roll with that. So we try to unpack what the societal standards are versus what their standards are for themselves. 

Theresa MacPhail  
And I try to give them tools to press back on things that are unrealistic, and tools for coping when something they want doesn't happen. So we also talk about abject failure. What happens when something just doesn't work, and you don't learn anything from it. We talk about things like what if someone dies in a car crash? That's a failure, but you're not learning anything from that failure. What do you do in those deepest darkest moments where something is not part of the narrative at all? How do you incorporate those moments in your life. 

Theresa MacPhail  
And I try to get them to see that the normal part of life and crucial, but in fact life that you're not going to be able to get through life without facing some pretty dark things, but that's normal and that they can in fact, they're more resilient than they think. That's some of the angles that I try to attack it is not just, let's look at we working and why that fails.

Jen Rafferty  
Yeah, which is interesting, but not always explicitly relevant to I'm feeling this way, and I can't work through my anxiety right now I don't really give a shit about we work. So what you're doing is tremendous. And I appreciate that you consistently saying this is normal, this is necessary, because looking back at our lives, the biggest moments of growth, and lessons come from the struggle and the failure and quote and quote, failure. That's an important differentiation here, because we're talking to failure in a very different way. 

Jen Rafferty  
And when you get to the end of a quest journey, you know, you don't look back and be like, wow, I really wish none of that hard stuff happens. It's wow, all of that stuff really got me to where I am right now. But getting through that doesn't feel good. And so can you talk a little bit about some of those tools that you alluded too with giving them some sort of map for resilience.

Theresa MacPhail  
One of the assignments is I have them, their anywhere between the ages of 18 and 22. And I asked them to think of three occasions where they failed, and it was dramatic, so that they felt awful. And they have to journal and analyze that failure, so they have to relive it. So I asked them to tell me exactly what happened, and exactly how you felt in the moment, try to put yourself back there. What feelings did you have? What is your body feel like? Were you nauseous? Did you feel flushed? Was your heart racing? What did that feel like emotionally for you? And then after they relive it, try to take a step back and say now, how do you feel about it? 

Theresa MacPhail  
Now, today, when you're looking back at how you felt a year ago, six months ago, five years ago, whatever this particular failure is, what do you think you took away from this? If anything. And if you didn't take away from anything from it, if it wasn't a learning experience, what did you learn about yourself in that process? And that really helps them to see that they've already overcome thing, and that they already have tools. And a lot of it is oh, I didn't handle that very well. And I asked them to project if this thing happened again, if it happens now. How would you handle it now? And especially since we're here we are sitting in his class like, how do you think you would cope with this now? 

Theresa MacPhail  
That's something we do, I teach them all the standard tools that I probably are being taught in happiness one on one, and I tell them that not everything is going to work for everybody, we do gratitude journaling, to try to help them see that even in the worst day that they had, but you can still be really grateful for your taco, it doesn't have to be these massive things you're grateful for, it can literally just be I really liked this sweater, it's fuzzy and warm. 

Theresa MacPhail  
Focusing on those kinds of things, help them I have them try meditation, often it doesn't work for them. And that's okay, I have them write letters of gratitude to people who really matter to them. And then either send them or read them to those people. I have them think about their meaningful internet interactions throughout the day. So I have them think about who they interacted with, and then rate on a scale of 1 to 10 how meaningful that interaction is. 

Theresa MacPhail  
And then the next week, the goal is to create meaningful interactions even with strangers. So most of them are very introverted, I think it's just a product of being the Zoom generation, like they, especially the pandemic babies, they spend a lot of time online so they sometimes can be shy in person. I'm like you're at getting a falafel, make eye contact with the person handing you the falafel and say, are you having a good day? And try to make a human connection and those kinds of things really help them to see that there's a lot more at their disposal that will change the quality of their day to day life that is a bulwark to those bigger, horrible thing. 

Theresa MacPhail  
Because you can build up these small grains of sand before you know it. You've built a whole sandbag wall that separates you from feeling overwhelmed when one of the natural waves crashes on you. And I think doing that at the same time that we're talking about failure openly, it's kind of a weird alchemy. They get to the end of the class thinking yeah, I've got this. My life is not going to be perfect. But I think I've got this and that's exactly what I want them to think at the end.

Jen Rafferty  
It's beautiful. And I think what you're describing is perspective. We're in this zoom generation. We're literally zooming out and creating more of a full picture of really what their lives can be and the choices they have in every interaction, in very moment and every thought that they'd have. Whereas before, the thing that might have felt like a failure could have been so big, that we were so close up to it, we couldn't actually see any of the other things that are around. 

Jen Rafferty  
So I think that word alchemy is does something to me, I think that's a beautiful way to describe it, because it is both. It has to be both. And I think there's something else that you said that I want to touch back on is that we have these big societal stories and these societal narratives that we're all very much a part of. And those can almost be a little bit more easily identified. But when we're talking about some of our inherited stories that might not even been, ours might not have even been our parents that might have been coming down from a few generations of drip edge, so to speak. Those limitations or perceived limitations, and that then correspond to failure. Those can be a little bit trickier. So can you talk a little bit about how you navigate that or how you get your students to self identify what some of those beliefs are.

Theresa MacPhail  
We do a lot of work. And they have to keep a failure journal. So I asked them to keep track of their failures, big and small. You were late to class. You didn't do your homework. You didn't do as well on the test in chemistry as you thought you were going to. And part of the reason for that is to have them be more reflective about, is this really a failure? Like they have to analyze the failures. They're not just lifting them, they're looking at how it makes them feel and why. And I think doing that kind of showed them, oh, actually, this is my mom's dream for me. This isn't my dream for me. This is my mom's dream for me. 

Theresa MacPhail  
And it's her failure, and I'm feeling her failure. I feel like I failed because I'm feeling my mom. And that kind of helps them. And then I try to do the opposite, where I think the reason they're suspicious of feel better, feel faster, that kind of thing is that, especially here in the US, we're only comfortable with a failure if it ends in success. Nobody wants to hear the failure story, where you tried to be an actor your whole life, and you never were the end. 

Theresa MacPhail  
But I tried to get them to see that there's something beautiful about the person who spent their entire lives in off Broadway shows. And then maybe had a job on the side that they did to make their living, but they really were fulfilled by doing those community theater shows. And it doesn't have to be a story like oh, James Gandolfini wasn't anybody. And then when he was 45, it look, he was on The Sopranos, and he was so successful. That's not really a helpful failure story for people. Because they know the deal, they're not going to be Steve Jobs. They're not going to fail, be fired from their own company, and then come back and change the world. 

Theresa MacPhail  
Lots of them are just like, how do I do this? Like, what if I'm not a success, and so I try to unpack those failure stories we tell, because we love those stories. And that's one of our favorite genre of tales is something like the Steve Jobs story, where he struggled or people love to talk about JK Rowling getting rejected 200 time and then she Harry Potter, there are a lot of writers out there who are going to get rejected 200 times and not have a multibillion dollar franchise at the trying to get them to see past those narratives, and where those voices are coming from. 

Theresa MacPhail  
And I tell them, it's okay to believe in those narratives. But you should know that you're adopting them, you shouldn't just have inherited them and then they fill your brain and you don't know where they came from. Figure out where they came from, and then figure out if that's what you want. And if it is great, but if it's not, then you can put those down. And I think that's the process is classes, having them constantly doing that work. And doing it together helps because they also can see that they're not alone. 

Theresa MacPhail  
Most of us have the same fears. Most of us have the same pressures in different degrees. So I tell them it's like Fight Club, the first rule of Fight Club as you don't talk about Fight Club, whatever people talk about, and failure stays in failure. Because it should be a psychologically safe space for them to say things like, you know what my parents meant well, pushing me to be successful, but what they've actually done is make me terrified of failure. If that needs to be said, and I want my classroom to be a space where they say that, and then figured out what to do with it. 

Jen Rafferty  
Yeah, that's so powerful. And so now I kind of want to bring it back to the classroom, in this K 12 space, where so many of us learn about success and failure in a very black and white kind of way, regardless of what's said, because it's very trendy right now to be like, it's okay to fail, there's no such thing as failure. But at the end of the day, we're giving grades and you pass or you fail. 

Jen Rafferty  
And on top of that, too, which is where I'm always really interested in being and living in the work that I'm doing is the teachers who are in this space, and the administrators who are in this space, are products of that same constructs. So changing that is difficult, because it's not only about we're going to now try this new initiative, where, for example, I remember when I was teaching, and we had this policy now in middle school, that no zeros were allowed, you could only give a 50 as the lowest grade. 

Jen Rafferty  
And it was like we told everyone that gravity was no longer going to be a thing. It was just so over the top outrageous the backlash. And it really showed people's discomfort in something new because of their own tied identity to their own construct of what it would be in school, what it meant to fail, and what it meant to succeed. So I want to stay in this space for a little while, can you share some of your thoughts about, I guess, maybe the state of things because you're seeing these kids now coming from the K 12 system, and they're getting to you in a certain way. Let's talk about that for a little bit.

Theresa MacPhail  
Yeah, it's unfortunate, because I think this push to teach to cast has really crumbled education, like this idea that your kids have to pass a standardized test, or, you know, it's all about the test scores and what school is failing or not failing, based on these average test scores. So all the teachers are driven to teach towards the test. I think the students have drank that Kool Aid. And they get into college, and I call the student the a minus students. It's really ironic, because I feel like the students who fail actually do better mentally than the students who get an A minus. 

Theresa MacPhail  
I would hesitate to say this, without data, but it almost feels like I'm more concerned about the mental health of a student who is used to getting four rows and then has a semester where they get a three oh, or something like that than I am for the student is really struggling, because that student will take the class again, they have to face themselves in that moment. They have to make some decisions like, am I bad at Calculus? Can I get better at this? How can I get better at this? 

Theresa MacPhail  
They have to think about resources like okay, I need a tutor I, but the student gets an A. Is so focused on that A, that they're not concerned about, did they learn something. And that, to me, is the tragedy of the situation. That they want the reward, but they're not really concerned about the process. They're entirely focused on the product. And I try to get them to see listen, out in the world like, when was the last time someone asked you about your grade point average? It doesn't it?

Jen Rafferty  
I can't remember.

Theresa MacPhail  
Right. And it but it's so ingrained to them because they're from K to 12. They're getting promoted or not. And especially in high school, they know that their GPA is going to be assessed when they're trying to get into colleges. And so then they have this idea, even though Google's not doing it anymore. They're like, Google's gonna look at my four oh, and it's actually they're not anymore. But they still have this idea that they're in some competition. And that's the arbiter of whether or not they are quote and quote smart. 

Theresa MacPhail  
And I have a really difficult time breaking them of that belief because without it, they're lost. And I think that's part of why they're so afraid of the future because I think on some level, they're intuiting that there is, there are no grades. I'm not being graded out here for my performance, we're not being graded for this podcast. You know, people are gonna listen to this have different ideas. Some people are gonna say, this is great. I really enjoyed this. Some people are gonna go, oh my god, that was the most boring 30 minute conversation they're full of shit. 

Theresa MacPhail  
And we're not in charge of that. We're doing the best job we can. We're trying to satisfy ourselves. And we've moved beyond thinking about grades. You and I are here because we care about students, we care about the people who teach them. And I try to get students to realize that is the mind that shift that has to happen. But it's really hard when their entire education is geared towards this measurement tool. And you're right, like every time someone suggests maybe we need to rethink grades, even though they were arbitrarily invented at Yale. Thanks a lot, Yale. 

Jen Rafferty  
Yeah. Thanks, Yale. 

Theresa MacPhail  
And why simply because an old Yale professor wanted to have a way to rank his students. And so now we have inherited that and even worse is I'll get students who come in, because it's a STEM school. So they've gotten A's, they in math, or they've gotten A's in science, but they've gotten historically C's or B's in English. And so they come in with a mindset, oh, I'm a C student in English. I can't write. Oh my, I just and trying to get them out of that. But what if that's not true? What if you are a changeable, non static creature that can adapt and learn and do her thing? What about that? 

Theresa MacPhail  
And what if a C just means that you're in the process of learning, and not, it's a measurement of all time of your skill, but that is really hard. So in failure, I don't give grade. And I give the big speech at the beginning of class saying, you have to find a way to do this work for you. Because you're not doing it for me, you're not doing it for the A, you're gonna get an A in here unless you stop coming and disappear. There's no way to not get an A as long as you're doing the work. But that being said, if I take that reward away from you, why are you here? Why would you keep coming to class? If you don't have to? You have to be able to answer that. 

Theresa MacPhail  
And for some of them, they look at me like I'm insane. What do you mean? And I say, are you going to stop reading because no one's grading you later in life? Are you going to stop learning because no one's there with a test at the end of the book that you've just read? No, right? So why not do that now. Be in this class for yourself. Figure out what you want to get out of this class. And for a lot of them, that is really hard.

Jen Rafferty  
Yeah, it is. And that's something I asked a lot of my teachers too. Going back to that, why. If there's none of that extrinsic motivation, all of a sudden, you're getting rid of all of the excess stuff. And you really get quiet and in tune with what's happening on the inside to find that motivator, that truth starts to come out that feels maybe profoundly uncomfortable. But there's so much power in that because that is where your agency lies and how you navigate this, because you're right, you know, we were tethered to the system in K 12. And then in higher ed, if that's your decision, but then we cut the balloon loose. And if you're not tethered to your agency, then it's very easy to feel like everything is a failure, because you don't have any sort of calibration to who you are. And what a beautiful lesson that we can be teaching in schools now.

Theresa MacPhail  
Can I anticipate the question you were gonna ask me?Because it's a good moment for it. You asked me what my dream for education. My dream is to somehow find our way back to thinking about education as something we're doing to build better, healthier, happier humans and not workers. I am sick to death of students simply thinking I'm here to get a degree so that I can get a job. And if it's not attached to the idea of a job then they think it's a quote and quote waste of time. 

Theresa MacPhail  
And that I think, does everyone a disservice. And I think that's part of teaching to the test, because teaching to the test is like, well, we've got to get them into a good school because they've got to get a good job. And they inherit that anxiety. And yes, we live in a capitalist. I don't want people listening to this going, Oh, my God, this is so idealistic. What about health care, they're going to need a job, of course, but they're so focused on the job, that they can't see the purpose, for anything that they're doing outside of that. 

Theresa MacPhail  
Like the idea that they would do something just to be better citizen doesn't compute. And this class is an effort to try to get them to think that way about education, this is for you. Never end your life. One of the things I missed the most about being in school is, when was the last time you sat in a room with 30 other people and talked about the meaning of life? For me, it's zero time. It's zero. And that is a really amazing, instructive, formative moment, if you can embrace it. For that sake, are you going to use that in your job at Google? Not really. But yes, because that's going to inform the type of human being that you are. And I really my hope for all of us is that education becomes about education again, and not about income.

Jen Rafferty  
I also have to share because it's coming up for me, too, you know, I am a former music teacher. And so much of what you just said, really resonates in the way of education and the arts. This is the humanizing piece of education and failure in that space, is very different than what happens on a test. And living in that space is also profoundly uncomfortable for the kids who are not used to it. And even as a product of it, like I was a performer, I went to music school, I taught music, even me, I had struggles with this idea of failure, but through the art, we would do it anyway. And that would be the pathway to navigate through. 

Jen Rafferty  
And it's so interesting to see on this macro scale. Arts programs are also being caught at the same time as saying, hey, listen, we're gonna, it's okay to fail. But in actuality, we still have seat tests, we still have funding that is dependent on state tests, we have teacher reputation and teacher grading, according to state tests, we're cutting arts programs, it seems super counterintuitive, and doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Theresa MacPhail  
Yeah, and I am sympathetic to that. What is someone supposed to do, the system has been set up in a certain way that if you try to do something different, you're going to be punished for it. And your students are going to perhaps, take a hit and see, you don't want to do that. So you have to play the game. And so I always feel like this has to be a larger cultural conversation about what we value and what the purpose of a college education is, what is the purpose of K to 12? What are they doing? Are you just are you trying to build a what certain skill sets so that they're better in life? But is that just Math and reading? 

Theresa MacPhail  
And what level of math what level of need? It's just I don't think we know what we're doing anymore. Maybe we never did, and we just were accidentally doing a decent job. And now that we're trying, we're finding out that we don't really know how this works that well, and I think a lot of it is our society is built on. I just read this book by the philosopher Kieran Setiya. And he talks about the difference between telic and atelic activities. 

Theresa MacPhail  
Telic activities are things that have an end goal built into them. You teach for the test, they pass the test, you're done. Telic activity. But learning is atelic that it has no end. It's all about the process. And he uses this example it would be insane and absurd to say I'm done listening to music. I've listened to all the music there is, I finished my goal of listening to music, that's it. No more music for me. Like all of us hearing that go with that. Absurd that. No, listening to music is something you do continuously for the rest of your life. 

Theresa MacPhail  
And the problem is that most of our education is built not for atelic but for telic. And I think we have to rethink that. because we're really doing them a disservice by not teaching them about the process of life, about all of these activities, that learning is never finished. You can't fail. You can't fail at calculus. All you do is keep struggling with it. There's this idea that that you fail that nice, no. But I think because we have those Teluk things at the end, that's where our brains are. And they're accidentally as little sponges, absorbing that ethic. 

Theresa MacPhail  
But I think if you ask most parents, that's not what the ethic is that they want their kids to absorb. But even they are accidentally cuz they keep talking about, you've got to do well in school, because then you've got to get into a good college, you'll need a scholarship, or and then you've got to get a good job. And they don't realize that they're accidentally doing exactly what they don't want for their kids.

Jen Rafferty  
Yeah, there is a disconnect cognitively but our subconscious stories are so much stronger than that. And that's truly the driver. And again, just underscore what really we're talking about here is when the adults get it, and embody it and do it and be it, that's really the messages that our kids are going to be getting. It is not what we tell them, it's how we be. This is how we actually make change. And it gets me excited to have these types of conversations in this platform. 

Jen Rafferty  
Because I really do believe the more we can start having this type of dialogue, the more we can start changing little by little, you know, organizations don't change until people change. And I think that kind of going through the backdoor, like how you are with your class, how I am with my program through a powered educator, we're getting one person at a time. And that's really, I think, how we can make this change or at least start talking about how we can make change in the future.

Theresa MacPhail  
Yeah, because it's shifting from a fear based platform, like I think even teachers were afraid for our students. And that gets transmitted to them subconsciously. And I've tried to switch to more of a joy based platform like that, I don't want to bring my anxiety into that room. Like I want to bring my playfulness and my creativity and my my resiliency into that room and model that for them. And I say over and over again, how many times I've failed, I talk openly about my own failures, because they can see I'm doing okay. And that is really powerful for me to go, you know, I really messed that up. Oh, I really messed this up. Oh, god, that was a really big time that I messed up. 

Theresa MacPhail  
But I have a job, I'm relatively sane. I'm relatively doing all right. So I think that modeling that, like I have, at every turn made mistakes. But I also trust myself that one of the things I tell them, that I hope they internalize is you have to be comfortable being uncomfortable. Because if you keep trying to be comfortable, you're not going to grow, you're going to be fear based. You've got to be willing to feel the gross feelings in life and not be afraid of them. And that's really hard. Because yeah, we're teaching happiness. They're getting the message. All right, I need to be happy. And in this class, no, not you don't have to be happy all the time. 

Theresa MacPhail  
In fact, I teach with Daniel Gilbert Stumbling on Happiness, highly recommend. It's an older book. But it's terrific. Based on the research, we're not even not good at predicting what will make us happy. So I try to get them to see you think you want this career, but you might not. And you'll be able to use this the things you learn, like how you think will be useful in other fields. And but they really think they've internalized our fears for them. And they really think one wrong move like the floor is lava. Oh my god, we didn't mean to do that. I'm so sorry. 

Theresa MacPhail  
But they really are like, super, super anxious, and they feel like they don't have much agency in the world. And my hope is that this class helps them see that they have way more agency, but it's micro agency. It's exactly what you were saying it from the ground up. No, we're not going to be able to do anything about climate change just does. But we can change our attitudes and that will eventually change our environment. And I try to give them that in this class, don't be afraid of failure, because you're going to fail over and over again. The important part is getting back up.

Jen Rafferty  
Yeah, yeah, it's I think out of all of the messages that I've addressed here on this podcast. To me, this rings is one of the most important messages that everybody needs to hear. Because we, like you said, come so often from this place of fear. So we're afraid to fail. So we're afraid to move so we don't move. Right. And what life are we living then if we feel so paralyzed? What is that wasn't true? What is the floor wasn't actually lava, and instead, this beautiful field of fluffy clouds, and safety and love and joy? And are there going to be things that kind of jump up and get you every once in a while? Yeah. 

Jen Rafferty  
But in general, we're all standing on solid ground, and it's safe. And I think going back to what you said earlier, to doing this in community is essential. And knowing that you are not alone in this, you are never alone in this and everyone is going through their own path, the same, but it is the same, and the shame that we sometimes feel about what happens to us, and be dissipated when we share and realize that we're all we really are going through this human experience together.

Theresa MacPhail  
I think that Brene Brown sometimes gets a tough rap from other academics and the work that she's doing to normalize shame and explain it. Because shame is one of the foundational emotional responses to failing. And it's why people don't ever talk about their failures. And so who can blame a student that comes into my class? I asked them, I give them a survey in the beginning and at the end, and I asked them to rate their rate of failure against how often they think other people fail. 

Theresa MacPhail  
And at the beginning of the class, they're like, everyone fails, but I definitely do it more, for sure. And then by the end of the class, they are like, no, I'm not my rate is normal. And it's because no one actually articulates how much failure there is in the world. And I love that thing that happened on Twitter now x, but it was Twitter when it happened when that scientists shared her failures TV. That was a beautiful moment. And then people started sharing their own failures. And I thought, if only we could do more of that would be fantastic. 

Theresa MacPhail  
And I think there's a gender dynamic here, too, I think I do not think it was a mistake that was a female. Because I think that in our society even more so like women can't fail, but minorities can't fail. You know, like anyone's seen as a minority figure feels like they absolutely can't fail. But we also know it's rigged. So I feel of course, it was going to be one of us. That said, screw this. What? 

Theresa MacPhail  
And men have such pressure to never fail, never sweat, never show any vulnerability and to say that you fail, it's very vulnerable. But it's also very powerful because it we all need to hear more about each other's failures because a we'll all feel better but be there's valuable information and failure that you are keeping from people. The best advice I could give to parents is talk to your kids about the times you messed up and recovered. Talk to them about how you feel uncertain. Talk to them about how you approach your failures, because that is powerful information for them to have. You're not doing them any favors by keeping your failures from them. They already know you're not perfect.

Jen Rafferty  
Yeah, my kids definitely. There's no more facade. I think maybe you invigilator about signs and they've found me out real quick. 

Theresa MacPhail  
I think that information is valuable to people going through it, even if it looks different, like everybody said, everyone has their own path. But I think seeing other people's journey allows you to pick and choose and try out different things and then have some sort of psychological safety. And look, they did okay. I clearly can do this. And obviously, I can't save those girls who took their own life. But my hope is that anyone who comes through my classroom, that I am saving people now without knowing it. And I don't mean that to sound like I have a savior complex. But I hope that I'm doing something for the small subset of students that I see that changes their mindset, because I don't ever want to see another letter from a 22 year old again, who says, Why try because she knows life is just going to be a series of failures. I want someone to see a series of failures as a joyous adventure.

Theresa MacPhail  
Is it powerful to see people further down the line. Like my favorite genre of the people I seek out now is I love these self identified Chromes who are in their 70s and 80s who are just like listen they just lay it all out and they're not afraid to talk about reality. And I think we need a lot more of that because it's helpful for those of us just see oh, no, I'm not screwing up my 50s. This is just what the 50s are like, or oh, I'm not screwing up my 30s. This is just what the 30s are like. 

Jen Rafferty  
Yes, yeah. So you know what? Let's go fail. I'm ready. I'm jazzed up. I'm like, all right. I plans to make dinner I might totally mess it up and I'm so here for it.

Theresa MacPhail  
Yeah, joyful failure. Let's do it.

Jen Rafferty  
Yes, let's do it. That is the call to action. Everyone who's listening right now, Theresa, this has been a joy and I so appreciate your time and the work that you do in this world that is so important, and what a gift to share it with the audience today. So if there are folks who want to know more about you and get in touch, what's the best way to do that?

Theresa MacPhail  
You can follow me on threads or Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/drtheresamacphail/. You can Google me, I have a website with a link to email me, contact me, if you should use though desire. Those are probably the best ways to be honest. I'm on Facebook. Is anyone on Facebook anymore? Not really. But that's surely on there to talk to my older relatives. But if you are also on there to talk to your older relatives, then you can find me there, also. And my email is because I'm a professor, my professional email is up if you have any reactions or just want to tell me your failure story. Feel free.

Jen Rafferty  
Awesome. Yes. And I will make sure that all of those links are in the show notes. It'll be super easy for people to get in touch. Thank you again for everything. And if you've enjoyed today's episode, which I knew that you did, go ahead and write a five star review, share it with a friend and subscribe and I will see you next time on Take Notes. 

Jen Rafferty  
Incredible, right? Together, we can revolutionize the face of education. It's all possible. And it's all here for you right now. Let's keep the conversation going at Empowered Educator Faculty Room on Facebook.