2020 Taught Us to Embrace Mistakes

If there was ever a year in which we did a lot of learning in a short time, it was 2020. It took multiple attempts and making lots of mistakes along the way. We worked at gaining skills at delivering online instruction and figuring out ways to build relationships and create community even though we weren’t in the room together. We accomplished what we had never imagined before the pandemic. Most of us do not like to make mistakes, but last year we had to leap in. We discovered that that people had more grace for us than we expected. Students were also dealing with many challenges,  and they too likely made a lot of mistakes. Research tells us that a fear of failure can hold students back. How can we create the space for them to make mistakes and use their failures to super charge their learning and offer them important life skills?

Normalize making mistakes: Pause and name it when you make a mistake. Show your students how you fix  your mistakes. Be a model for gracious failure and show an attitude of self-compassion and curiosity about what you learned.

When you make a mistake that negatively impacts a student in your class, don’t ignore it.  Repair it. This has been a stressful year. Stress affects our brains and causes us to flip our lids much more quickly (both kids and adults), so losing our tempers is understandable. When we flip our lids it has an impact on others. Part of creating an environment where mistakes are welcome is teaching the tools to repair interpersonal mistakes. Teach and demonstrate the Steps of Repair from Positive Discipline in the Classroom:

Regather: Take the time to re-regulate and get calm.
Recognize & Take Responsibility: Acknowledge that you made a mistake and own your actions. “I blew it. I realize I made a mistake.”
Reconcile: Offer a genuine apology. Be brief and genuine (no explanations or excuses). “I am sorry.”
Resolve: Commit to doing better next time. Ask the other person how you can fix your mistake and move forward together honoring any agreements you make.

Model Compassion: It is a difficult time for students. They need our compassion and understanding. Pretend that you are looking at the world through their eyes for a few minutes. Listen. Validate their feelings. Let the student know you care about them, believe in them, and are willing to support them in repairing the mistake if they need help.

Promote a sense connection in response to mistakes: Research shows that when teachers critique student work while also offering a personal message of belief in that student’s ability to meet high standards, students are up to four times more likely to revise and resubmit an essay, and the revisions are of a higher quality than when there is critique alone.

Choose to embrace mistakes: Once the environment has been created where mistakes are normalized and the emotional triggers of shame have lessened, when faith and belonging are promoted and the skills of repair are being practiced, we have created a place where we can benefit from really learning from our mistakes. Some teachers are beginning to take this approach as the foundation of their classrooms and use mistake-driven learning.