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10 Ideas to Transform K-12 Education

Teaching students to celebrate their failures

Walnut Hill School for the Arts knows big lessons can be found in losing.

Study after study has shown that an arts education can help increase SAT scores, advance literacy and understanding of mathematics, enhance critical thinking, and improve social skills. But the folks at the Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Natick believe the arts are essential for another reason: They can teach kids to celebrate failure.

Come again?

“Not everyone gets to be the lead in the musical,” explains Antonio Viva, Walnut Hill’s head of school. “Not every painting is a masterpiece. In the arts, kids have to confront failure every day.”

It’s the process, not the end result, Viva maintains, from which students learn. At Walnut Hill, he says, “we teach kids to fail upward. To take each challenge we present to them and learn something from it that will make them better, stronger, more prepared next time.”


It’s an uncommon view in today’s culture, where more and more students report feeling pressured to rack up accomplishments and helicopter parents demand their children win at everything. But in life, as in school, people confront challenges and make mistakes all the time; Walnut Hill’s program prepares students to learn all they can from those experiences.

“What we’re doing is creating long-lasting skills and habits of life and mind and work,” Viva says. “After their kids graduate, many parents tell us they’ve come to appreciate how much better prepared for college or conservatory the kids are because of it.”


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