Opportunities Versus Mistakes

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We often
have parents ask us what they can do when their children become upset with
mistakes. For example, recently, a mom reported that her son became very upset
when he took a quiz and missed one question. He did not focus on the 9 out of
10 that were correct, but on the one that he missed. He didn’t think he should
be making any mistakes at all!

 

This can
be a tricky issue. We need to examine our own actions, behaviors, and
statements to see if we are contributing to the child reacting in this way.
Many parents say that it’s not coming from them–they are always positive and
talk in terms of how many questions or problems a student gets right. That may
be, but are we giving them messages in other ways during daily life that
suggest that “mistakes” are “bad”? After all, we all grew up with the idea that
the best score is 100% and the best grade is A+. If your children are in a
traditional school program, this is certainly the message they are getting
there.

 

We also
need to realize that the word “test” in itself gives the idea that the student
will be “measured”–and that the score determines how “good” or “smart” you are.
This is a major reason why tests fail to teach or to be positive motivators in
most students’ lives. They are usually associated with feelings of stress or
fear, and often lead to disappointment, sadness, and beliefs of inadequacy.

 

In
contrast, let’s look at people who perceive “mistakes” in a very different way.
For example, it is said that Thomas Edison did over 1000 experiments trying to
invent the light bulb. He was asked how he could keep going after making so
many mistakes. His response: What mistakes? Each time I’m just learning what
doesn’t work, bringing me closer to what does work. Similarly, the most
successful sales people look forward to being turned down by potential clients.
Their reasoning: the more no’s I get the closer I am to a big “YES.”

 

These
people are not seeing mistakes–they are seeing learning opportunities! Many of
our best inventions–styrofoam, post-it notes, etc.– started out as “mistakes.”
The person involved was trying to do something else and something went
wrong–lucky for us, someone saw beyond the mistake and a new invention was
born. All of our famous inventors, scientists, and creative people made lots of
mistakes–this is the only way they could get to the discovery they were looking
for, by being willing to get it “wrong” so many times.

 

It’s
important to get this concept across to kids. And we need to make it “safe” for
them to make mistakes. The number one requirement for learning is safety. If
our students do not feel emotionally safe to explore, try, and take risks in
their learning, their potentials will not be realized. For example, there are
so many kids who stop asking questions in the classroom or who don’t raise
their hands to participate because they are afraid of saying the wrong thing or
saying something “stupid.”

 

In order
to be successful at anything, including learning, you have to be willing to
make mistakes. It’s the “fail your way to the top” attitude:  if I keep trying, discovering, experimenting,
I’ll get there. This is what separates the people who achieve their goals from
those who don’t. In her book, “Work Less Make More,” Jennifer White says, “Fail
often so you can succeed sooner.”

 

The more
we can see “mistakes” as opportunities and incorporate this concept into our
everyday family life, the better it will be for our kids. One way to get help
with this is to read stories together of people who turned mistakes into opportunities.
There are several books on this subject. If you go to Amazon.com and put
“mistakes” in the search box, you will get a whole list. Here are a few to get
you started:

 

Mistakes That Worked, by Charlotte Foltz Jones
(reading level 9-12 yr)

Accidents May
Happen: 50 Inventions Discovered by Mistake
, Foltz (9-12 yr)

Whoever Makes the
Most Mistakes Wins: The Paradox of Innovation
, Farson

Failing Forward–How to Make the
Most of Your Mistakes
, Maxwell

 

If
parents and teachers continually point out what students are doing “right” and
if “mistakes” are treated as learning opportunities rather than “problems,”
students will get the idea. Wouldn’t it be great if our kids could grow up
seeing opportunities all around them?!

copyright
2011 by Willis & Hodson, Reflective Educational Perspectives LLC


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