What Angry Birds Can Teach Educators



“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” – Denis Waitley

I have recently been reading more about what Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, describes as fixed and growth mindsets. Dweck emphasizes successful people tend to focus on growth, solving problems and self-improvement, while unsuccessful people think of their abilities as fixed assets and avoid challenges. The Angry Birds illustration above is a great example of a growth mindset.

I have asked my friend, Matt Townsley, to add to this discussion as an expert on growth mindset. Many of you know Matt from his leadership at Solon (IA) Community School District in the area of standards based grading. I appreciate Matt sharing his expertise with us!

Failure is not an option? – guest blogger, Matt Townsley

I will never forget the summer after I graduated high school. For some reason, I decided to give tennis a try.  I was the high school PE table tennis champion several times, so tennis couldn’t be that hard, right?  I was a lackluster basketball player, average cross country runner and mediocre golfer.  I’m not sure why tennis would come naturally.  After several weeks of practicing my serve, my stroke looked nothing like Roger Federer, so I gave up.  Here was my problem: I had purchased all of these tennis balls, but wasn’t sure what I was going to do with them. Then, one day, it hit me. I didn’t want to be known as a tennis failure, so I took up juggling…with tennis balls!  I picked up a copy of Juggling for the Complete Klutz and first learned how to juggle two balls.  Next: three balls.  I would never have learned to juggle if I had not first failed miserably at tennis.  Let’s be honest, in between successful juggles, I made a lot of mistakes too.  I still make mistakes when juggling three tennis balls and I never could figure out how to juggle four!

I took a risk in buying the juggling book.  We need our students to be willing to do the same.  Sure, we have high stakes state tests, which we can’t control, but we do have the rest of the school year to shape the culture of our classrooms and schools.  Every educator I’ve met believes students learn at different rates and different paces.  This means students are going to make mistakes on their way to learning.  When we make mistakes, we are presented with the opportunity to learn from them.  Classroom teachers understand this aspect of their professional practice!  When Monday or second period doesn’t go well, there’s nearly always a second chance to reflect, revise and re-teach.  It is in our DNA as educators to look beyond unsuccessful first attempts!

Experts who proclaim failure is not an option are right.  Failure is the only option that creates meaningful reflection for adults and students.  When (not if) failure happens, look in the mirror or ask a friend, who can help you get up, and face round two of the game of life.


The simple question is: Do we encourage our students to take risks and make mistakes? If not, are we preparing our students for “life after school.” If you want to learn more about growth mindset, please, look at this article: http://bit.ly/1nOy8ay


“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” – Denis Waitley

 As always, I leave you with an exercise that you can do with your school staff to help remind educators why we are in the business of making the world a better place.

#Oneperson Action Item:

The Secret Voicemail

  1. This is a simple culture activity that can make a big impact on your staff.
  2. If your building has phones in the classroom, this activity is a possibility.
  3. Arrive at school early before any teachers have arrived. Call a teacher’s phone extension and leave a positive message. Make sure you have great energy in your voice and provide specific examples that you appreciate about this teacher.
  4. The teacher will arrive and think “Great, an upset parent if I have a voicemail this early.” The teacher will be pleasantly surprised when they hear a positive message coming from you. The positive energy will grow within the entire building because of one phone call from #oneperson.


  1. Joel,
    Love the graphic and hope that many people reflect on the “51 games” that were not successful before Angry Birds. Sometimes “giving up / quitting” seems like an easy strategy after only one or two less than stellar efforts.

    Love the secret voice mail idea! What fun and what a positive impact on the culture!

    #oneperson #YouRock!

  2. Joel,

    The secret voicemail idea was well received. What a quick and easy way to make a #oneperson impact!

    Thanks for the suggestion.


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