The Art of the Mistake

We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again.  They’ve been big and they’ve been small.  Usually, in hindsight they’re really no big deal at all.  Sometimes when they happen, however, they have such an impact that they’ll never be forgotten.  We’ve all made our share of mistakes.  

Part of me wants to stop there…we’ve all made our share of mistakes.  

However, mistakes can’t just stop with the mere acknowledgement that they’ve been made.  The beautiful part of mistakes is what comes after: learning, empathy, growth.  As educators we see our fair share of mistakes made on a regular basis.  I’ve grown fond of telling students that we expect them to make mistakes and that it’s their job (with our help) to learn from them, that’s why they’re in school.

Sometimes the mistakes our students make are minor, like a computational error on a math problem, other times they’re much bigger.  However, at the end of the day the ultimate goal is still the same; they should be learning from their mistakes.  This, the learning, is the crucial part of the puzzle.  How do we ensure that the learning they take away from their mistakes is the ‘right’ learning and how do we make sure that they’ve actually learned that lesson?

In truth, the answer to that question is simply, ‘we can’t.’  For the same reason that we are prone to making mistakes, we can’t guarantee anything else in the equation – we’re all human.  This, the fact that we’re all human, is something that I believe we forget all too often when dealing with other people’s mistakes.  It’s very easy to climb up into our ivory towers and pass judgement upon other people’s mistakes, even easier when those people are teenagers who make lots of mistakes!  However, if the true goal is to help someone learn from their mistake then we have to step back and remember – we’re all human.

Now, to be sure, just because we’re all human doesn’t mean that mistakes should be allowed to go unaddressed.  Actually, it’s just the opposite, mistakes need to be identified and learning should take place.  It’s this process of identifying mistakes, acknowledging them, and going through the process of learning that is at the heart of our job.  At the end of the day, how we treat mistakes made by our students is the legacy that we’ll leave as educators.  

Herein lies, perhaps, the biggest challenge we face each and every day.  How do we deal with mistakes made by our students?  We can be too relaxed, we can be too strict, or we can be somewhere in between.  It’s a Goldilocks paradox of sorts, we’re looking for that sweet spot right in the middle, that ‘just right’ territory.  There is no right answer here, and sometimes we’re going to make our own mistakes when dealing with other people’s mistakes.  However, if we can step back and acknowledge the fact that we all make mistakes and that they are a normal part of life, then just maybe we can get a little closer to that ‘just right’ place where we can all learn from our mistakes.  

We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again.  They’ve been big and they’ve been small.  Usually, in hindsight they’re really no big deal at all.  Sometimes when they happen, however, they have such an impact that they’ll never be forgotten.  We’ve all made our share of mistakes.  

“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” – John Powell

“Many times what we perceive as an error or failure is actually a gift. And eventually we find that lessons learned from that discouraging experience prove to be of great worth.” – Richelle E. Goodrich

“You will only fail to learn if you do not learn from failing.” – Stella Adler

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.” – Neil Gaiman

“Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.” – Oscar Wilde

“All men make mistakes, but only wise men learn from their mistakes.” – Winston Churchill

“It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” – Bill Gates

 

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