“Failure is not an option”

Failure cover

Failure is always an option…

Wait a minute the title of this post and the first line….which is it?  It is both. Failure is not an option but throughout the journey there are going to be setbacks that some people will point to as failures and a reason not to adjust the course of action but to quit.  It is quitting, it is no longer working toward a solution to the challenges that we face that simply cannot be an option. This extends to everyone in our division: students, parents, teachers, education assistants, administration – all of us should be sharing ownership of the success of the entire operation, a success only partially measured by exam results and graduation rates as we strive to have students who are meeting the three “e”‘s of Inspiring Education – Engaged thinker, Ethical citizen, and an Entrepreneurial Spirit. Note it’s a wee bit difficult to measure the attainment any of these three on a standardized examination, PAT or Diploma. 

Take a minute and view this video clip from the film, “Apollo 13”.  Below the clip you’ll find the script from the screenplay.  Read the script after your first viewing and then watch the clip again. Focus on the reactions and actions, look for “can’t do” and “can do”, in words and action. Ponder for a moment the entire scene as an extended metaphor for educational change and the demands we put on ourselves, or perhaps come from others to do all we can to ensure the best possible education for everyone one of our students.

You can find examples of a professional learning community, formative and summative assessment, understanding by design, differentiation (I should add the scene where they build an air cleaner with what they have available in space) throughout the scene.  Of course you can also find – at least temporarily until the will of the positive carries the day – examples of the naysayer, the cynic, but thankfully in this instance, AND in so many instances in our work, they did not win the day in terms of the conversation or the actions that followed.

Might all their efforts, relentless tests and experiments have resulted in a failure to save this particular crew of 3 men?  The simple answer is yes they could have done all that work and still died. Very good people pass away daily in spite of the tremendous efforts of people all around them.  The key rests in the commitment and effort, the passion and supported belief that carries each of us through the journey. And of course a critical piece is that each “failure” fuels further learning and understand in effort to not have that same result repeated.

Vince Lombardi (the legendary Green Bay Packers football coach) wrote,

“I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious.” ”

It is important to note that victorious never meant winning the game, though if someone’s keeping score I’d rather win.  Lombardi is often misquoted as saying “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” those were not his words. The accurate quote is “Winning is not everything, but making the effort to win is.”

To quote Gene Kranzt “That’s the deal?” Yes that is the deal, failure is not an option, an inclusive education system is one that is constantly vigilant to the needs of all those associated with the system and works to the “very best” of the system’s ability to meet those needs and provide that support TOGETHER

Take another peek at the video – watch carefully as Gene says, “I want people in our simulators working re-entry scenarios”  IMMEDIATELY the person we can only assume has or accepts that responsibility for that work leaves to get started. How long do we wait when really we should embrace the task at hand, stop postulating and get to work.  He who hesitates, when it’s clear there is a direction that must be followed, is lost.

- So you're telling me you can only give our guys 45 hours.
It brings them to about there... Gentlemen, that's not

- Gene, Gene. We gotta talk about power here...

- Whoa, whoa, guys! The power's everything. Power is

- What you mean?

- Without it they don't talk to us, they don't correct their
trajectory, they don't turn the heatshield around... we
gotta turn everything off. Now. They're not gonna make it to

- What do you mean everything?

- With everything on the LM draws 60 amps. At that rate in
sixteen hours the batteries are dead, not 45. And so is the
crew. We gotta get them down to 12 amps.

- Whoa. 12 amps!
- How many?
- You can't run a vacuum cleaner on 12 amps, John.

- We have to turn off the radars, cabin heater, instrument
displays, the guidance computer, the whole smash.

- Whoa. Guidance computer. What... what if they need to do
another burn? Gene, they won't even know which way they're
- The more time we talk down here, the more juice they waste
up there. I've been looking at the data for the past hour.

- That's the deal?

- That's the deal.

- Okay, John. The minute we finish the burn, we'll power
down the LM.

- All right.

- Now, in the meantime... we're gonna have a frozen command
module up there. In a couple of days we're gonna have to
power it up using nothing but the re-entry batteries.

- Never been tried before.
- Hell, we've never even simulated it before, Gene.

- Well, we're gonna have to figure it out. I want people in
our simulators working re-entry scenarios. I want you guys
to find every engineer who designed, every switch, every
circuit, every transistor and every light bulb that's up
there. Then I want you to talk to the guy in the assembly
line who had actually built the thing. Find out how to
squeeze every amp out of both of these goddamn machines. I
want this mark all the way back to Earth with time to spare.
We never lost an American in space. We're sure as hell not
gonna lose one on my watch!. Failure is not an option!

Alan Blankstein’s book, “Failure is not an option” speaks to assessment, professional learning communities, parents, teachers, students and our attitudes – being courageous and working toward supporting all students.

Sir Ken Robinson

British educator and presenter Sir Ken Robinson has delivered many keynotes and Ted Talks which provide much food for thought as we reflect upon developing an inclusive education system that meets not just the needs but the dreams and aspirations of our students.  As you listen to the talks/presentations below the invitation is extended to listen with an ear to developing a sense of belonging, an attitude that embraces differentiation, creatively exploring options, the value of taking risks to improve upon what we are doing as we strive to support the dreams of the communities, parents, and students we work with.

Ted Talk from 2007 – Do schools kill creativity?

2010 Ted Talk – Bring on the learning revolution – The premise that we make poor use of our talents

2010 RSA animated presentation – Changing Education Paradigm

Educating the Heart and the Mind  presented at the Dalai Lama center

How to escape education’s death valley?

On Passion

How to change education from the ground up – July 2013 RSA Event


At the very root of the inclusive model is actively fostering a sense of belonging. From the very first paragraph of the Alberta Education “about” inclusive education website we read:

“Each of us needs to belong. A sense of belonging is part of our business, social and personal interactions. We belong to sports teams, places of worship, community leagues and service clubs because doing so creates meaning in our lives. Feeling included shapes our identity, bolsters our self-esteem and fuels our personal growth.”

Belonging is about developing an attitude that removes the instinct to judge and sort and replace it with one that is based on accepting, supporting, even embracing the differences. An attitude of awareness that seeks to celebrate differences while ameliorating any negative impacts that are both real and perceived.

This video may have just been an English assignment in school – the flashcard story has been used for 21st Century learning, cries for help and in this instance to introduce a conversation around the sense of belonging:

A collection of links

Here is a list of resources that can support Inclusion and the work of becoming an inclusive environment.  Additional links and articles will be added to this blog in the days and weeks ahead.

Literacy for All And Literacy for All Videos

Essential Conditions  – Inclusive Education 

Support for Implementation of Inclusive Education 

Edmonton Public’s video library and study guides for work in a range of schools. 

Alberta Education’s Inclusive Education Library of Resources – wide range of supports, templates, links to other research

Indicators of Inclusive Schools: Continuing the Conversation – Document outlines 5 Dimensions schools and communities work on to ensure that their schools are Inclusive in the practice and work.

My Child’s Learning – A website to support parents through the education journey of their children.

Supporting English Language learning. 

Articles on-line

Promoting Access to the General Curriculum Using Peer Support Strategies