‘Being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience.’
– Colossians 1:11 NIV
Dr. Linda Albert, author of Cooperative Discipline, subscribes that the message of a student who fears failure is, ‘Leave me alone.’ So the student who most needs your help is most likely unwilling to ask for it, seek it out, or resist your attempts to intervene and redirect them towards being on task. I would add that the behavior is not just demonstrated by students who perform poorly academically, but also includes high achievers who fear earning less than an ‘A.’ Avoidance of failure (or the fear of failure) occurs in all subjects from art to mathematics to science to physical education.
Like attention seeking, power, and revenge behavior, avoidance of failure behavior is identified by clues (signals) by you and the student to help you identify the behavior when it’s displayed. Listed is a review of the clues for attention seeking, power, and revenge:
Attention seeking: emotional pressure gauge is mild; you feel annoyed, irritated; you respond by scolding, nagging, reminding, rescuing; student responds by stopping temporarily
Power Behavior: emotional pressure gauge is hot; you feel angry, frustrated, fear of losing control; you respond by fight back with words, or give in; student responds by stopping on own terms
Revenge Behavior: emotional pressure gauge is boiling; you feel the desire to strike back, punish severely, or withdraw; student responds by escalating behavior
With avoidance of failure behavior, Dr. Linda Albert concludes that the clues are more professional concern that originate more in the head (a mental response) than in the heart (an emotional response). We may feel professional concern, frustration, despair, or ask questions about the effectiveness of techniques and strategies that have been effective in the past.
Some of the active and passive behaviors (more often passive than active) suggested to be associated with avoidance of failure include: frustration tantrum (implosion vs. explosion), clowning, goofing off (all active), procrastination, noncompliance, temporary incapacity, assumed disabilities (all passive).
The suggested origins of avoidance of failure behavior may include the rule of the red pencil (fear of seeing extensive red marks on returned papers/visible to others too), unreasonable expectations, perfectionism, star mentality, and emphasis on competition.
The legitimate need and silver lining of the avoidance of failure behavior is the need for the student to believe in themselves, feel successful, and the ambition, or the desire (want), to succeed.
The suggested principles of prevention include: 1) Encourage an ‘I can’ belief, 2) Foster friendships (with us and other students).
Even as I write this I am reminded of my need to separate personal feelings about any student’s misbehavior and the student to remain objective in how I proceed in intervening to redirect the students towards progress and success. Not all students can earn A’s, but every students can exhibit appropriate, reasonable conduct. I had a saying posted in my room that read, “‘I Can’t,’ hinders and leads to failure, but ‘I Can’ leads to opportunity, success, and hope.” What I believe about my students can have a great impact on the outcome of their performance!
May God bless you and help you to manage your students and maintain order within your classroom by learning to recognize the behaviors that can distract, disrupt, and create dysfunction.