Carolism #8: Allow your students to make mistakes
Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new. – Albert Einstein
Mistakes will happen; students will cry; they’ll want to quit; you’ll want to quit. Because mistakes are inevitable, I decided a long time ago that I would allow them and celebrate them. In fact, each student gets to create a “mistake dance” (but mine’s the best, of course). When we make a mistake, we do our little dance and move on.
I had a student several years ago who taught me one of the biggest lessons I ever learned. “Katy” was an all-star student. She tried hard, did well and we got along great. Katy never complained about anything, but every Friday her mom would march into my classroom and chew me out for treating Katy unfairly. It honestly made no sense to me, but I took it. I never asked Katy why her mom was continuing to do it—I just dealt with it.
Years later I received a bouquet of flowers the week of Mother’s Day with a card that read: To the second most influential woman in my life. Love, Katy. When I called to thank her I finally asked her why her mom came in each week to beat me up for treating her unfairly when we both knew that wasn’t the case. She explained that enrolling in cosmetology school wasn’t easy for her parents and they were unsupportive of the decision to begin with. Each night she’d come home and make up stories about how I was horrible to her, that way if she failed, her parents would blame me—not her. She couldn’t face disappointing them again if she didn’t succeed.
Your students have a bigger, overwhelming fear when they make mistakes. They’re disappointing themselves, their family and their friends. The fact is, we never know what a student is going through personally, so while everyone is depending on them to succeed, you need to let them make mistakes.
My rules for mistakes
■ Learn from it. If you’re going to make a mistake, learn what you did wrong and move on. Mistakes aren’t intended to be repeated.
■ Own it. This is not a time to shift the blame or lie about it. Educators and students shouldn’t be justifying their mistakes—they should own it. “I’m sorry, that was my fault. It won’t happen again.”
■ Take risks. You’ll notice students taking bigger risks when they know there’s no judgment and that you’ve created a safe environment for them. If you emphasize mistakes are OK, then encourage them to take risks. The fact is, they’ll be in a job one day where maybe their boss isn’t so lenient. I let students know that if you’re going to screw up, better now than later.
■ Don’t give up. Once you’ve created a culture where mistakes are expected, remind your students that it’s never a reason to give up. Some will make mistakes weekly, while others will make them daily … and that’s OK! Mistakes aren’t a reason to quit.
I do want to point out that while mistakes are OK, offending someone or causing emotional pain isn’t. Lashing out, being violent or just plain being a bully isn’t just a mistake—it’s a poor choice. Let your students know that if this occurs, there will be consequences. Mistakes can be a great thing. We develop into who we are by screwing up. Continue to make mistakes and move on. Don’t ever underestimate the power of an educator!