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Mastering the Art of Failing Forward at Stanford Online High School

December 21, 2019

In spring 2019, we ran a pilot study of our first workshop, Mastering the Art of Failing Forward, at the Stanford Online High School. The Stanford Online High School is a learning community of diverse, intellectually passionate students from around the world. The school challenges students to reason analytically, think creatively and develop independence and strength of character.

The Mastering the Art of Failing Forward workshop was a six-week program with two objectives: 1) to provide an introduction to the Fail Fast approach, a way of living based on action, exploration and embracing the unexpected; and 2) to provide students the opportunity to explore new possibilities in their lives and embrace change, with the support of the instructors and class members.

The workshop was based on a format that was developed for the class, Fail Fast, Fail Often: Creating a Life of Passionate Action, which for five years was one the most popular courses in the Stanford University Continuing Studies program. Each week, the workshop provided the opportunity for students to:

  • Share their insights and experiences from the previous week.
  • Learn a new idea about failing forward and reflect on how it might be applied to their lives.
  • Work in peer-coaching groups to develop weekly action steps for exploring new areas and developing their interests.

The student engagement in the workshop was fantastic! Over six-week duration of the course some of the new things the students tried included: learning how to cartoon, coding in a new programming language, writing poetry, performing music, taking up cross country running, starting a non-profit, attending industry conferences, and joining new social clubs.

By the end of the workshop the students had really bought into the Failing Forward approach—they were more willing to try new things and were more comfortable with failing. (You can see some of their feedback below). Students said that they greatly enjoyed the supportive environment and enjoyed how everyone was encouraged (and expected!) to share their thoughts and give feedback. The students favorite part of the workshop was the peer-coaching groups where they had the opportunity to collaborate with other students. At first, students said it felt a little awkward talking about their lives and aspirations with other students, but by end of the of the workshop they were comfortable sharing and had made new friends.

Coming Soon

We’re presently developing a follow-up seven-week workshop, Leadership in Peer Mentoring, where students will have the opportunity to lead their own Failing Forward wellness group. During the weekly sessions, the student leaders will discuss how their groups are going and brainstorm ideas for their group for the upcoming week. As part of these discussions, students will explore issues in leadership, mentoring and group coaching.

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