Noah Rachlin Encourages Students To Embrace Failure in the Andover Community

Noah Rachlin, Tang Fellow and Instructor in History, began his project, called “I Can’t Do That… Yet,” in the spring of 2014 as a school-wide initiative to help the Andover community embrace failure and struggle. The project aims to promote the idea that mistakes have real value, and it is underscores the growth mindset, a concept that individuals can develop their abilities through hard work and perseverance.

A graduate of Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), Rachlin was approached by the “Harvard Ed Magazine” last month for his project on growth mindset at Andover.

Rachlin said in an interview with The Phillipian, “We are trying to work with teachers and students to try to cultivate a learning disposition with the idea that it’s going to help students achieve their greatest level of success both while they’re here and once they leave Andover and embark on whatever comes next.”

Rachlin was inspired to begin his project after reflecting upon his experience as an instructor in History at Andover. Realizing that failure is often perceived negatively within the Andover community, Rachlin was determined to help students overcome this common misconception. His project encourages students to regard failure as an opportunity to learn from their mistakes.

“There are tons of clichés about the value of hard work, how you shouldn’t be deterred by failure. But, in my experience in the classroom, I’ve felt that a lot of these cliches don’t actually follow through… This struck me as really dangerous, because it means that there’s a really profound missed opportunity around learning, taking risks and embracing challenge,” said Rachlin.

Since the 2014-2015 academic school year, Lowers and Uppers, who are chosen at random, have met with Rachlin once a week for a term at a time to discuss various educational philosophies and methods to incorporate his strategies at Andover.

Lily Augus ’16, a participant in the program during Winter Term last year, said in an interview with The Phillipian, “One thing that stuck with me is the idea of a growth mindset as opposed to a fixed mindset… We are all capable of learning everything that we want to know, and it’s our own mindsets that prohibits us from doing so.”

Another facet of Rachlin’s program includes working with faculty members to encourage all students to practice growth mindset in the classroom.

“In my own classes, I talk explicitly about concepts such as the growth mindset. I try to have [my students] reflect on the work that they’ve done and talk about moving forward,” said Rachlin.

While Rachlin has received mainly positive feedback for the new initiative, he believes it has been difficult for the faculty to fully gauge the effectiveness of the program.

“As teachers, we don’t necessarily know what students are taking away from our courses. We can always try to measure these things, but we don’t always know what they get out of our lessons,” said Rachlin.

Though the program was initially designed to foster student development in academic settings, participants have been able to apply what they have learned from the program to sports fields, theater classes and other aspects of their lives.

“We actually reconvened a few weeks ago, and I think what was interesting for me was that for each kid, [the impacts of the program] manifested differently,” said Augus.

Community members involved with Rachlins’s program, such as Augus, are looking to get more Andover members involved.

“I wish that we had more time to meet and to fit [the program] into our schedules on a daily basis… I also think that it would be critical for teachers to be trained in this and to go through the same program that we went through,” said Augus.

“I think it’s important for us to remember that life is interdisciplinary, so that is certainly a part of this work [for the program],” said Rachlin.