Learning From Mistakes

While it’s hard for many to believe, genuine learning happens through failure.  When innovative and problem-solving people try to do something and fail, they look adversity face on and say, “Na na nah boo boo.”  They brainstorm a new way to solve their problem.  They assess the situation to figure out what went wrong and why it went wrong.  Then, they generate an alternative way to solve their problem that addresses the failure and mistakes made previously.  Some people learn through not succeeding.  As we often tell our students, the best learning opportunities come about when we assess our mistakes and understand what happened to cause them.

Today, I had the chance to practice this.  During our Morning Break time between periods three and four, our sixth graders decided it would be wise to run, jump, scream, yell, push, and shove each other upstairs outside of our classroom.  Quick back story: Yesterday, they were doing the same thing on the other side of the hallway and were banned from using the bench side of the hall.  They were reminded of this prior to Morning Break as well.  This didn’t make a difference.  Another teacher had to come out and reprimand the boys for making poor choices.  I was livid.  I just talked to them about this yesterday.  What was so difficult about doing the right thing?  We have Core Values to guide our thinking and yet they make poor choices.  They disrespected us as their teachers.  These thoughts and more went through my head as we led the boys back into the classroom.  I was mad.  So, I laid into them.  I didn’t yell, but I raised my voice.  I asked them how they could do such a thing.  I lectured them on how it makes the sixth grade look.  I said, “Some students and teachers thing of the sixth graders as little kids who do silly things.  We don’t look at you this way, but you just proved them right.  Why?”  I was on a roll.  Then, I overstepped.  I said, “And our student senators, they need to step in.”  I mentioned them by name and continued.  I explained how they need to step up and be leaders.  They need to regulate situations like this.  Then in my head as I noticed the body language of our two senators, I realized I messed up.  We hadn’t prepared our senators to be leaders like that.  So, how could we expect them to take care of situations like the one that had happened in the hall?  We can’t.

Luckily, my co-teacher picked up the pieces a bit after I finished.  She was good cop and I was clearly the bad cop.  She reminded the class that everyone needs to be a leader and step in to regulate bad situations.  That helped.  The boys knew we were upset.  That period they were awesome.  We had a great discussion and they were focused.  They learned from their mistakes and fixed the situation.  I praised them for this and asked them to take what made this class so good and apply it to times when teachers aren’t around.  I have faith in them.  They can do it.

So, if my students were able to learn from their mistakes, then I need to do the same as their role model.  So, after class, I spoke with our two senators in the hall.  I apologized for calling them out in front of the class.  We hadn’t prepared them to stop things like this.  It’s not their job to fix situations.  So, I apologized.  I wanted them to know that I realized I made a mistake.  I wanted them to see that when I made a mistake, I fixed the situation.  I wanted to model good behavior for my students.  I wanted my students to know that adults make mistakes too and that they can also learn from them like we want our students to.  I fixed the situation because I made a mistake.  Even though I was disappointed in my students, I had enough clarity to realize that I had spoken incorrectly.  Learning from my mistakes makes me more aware.  Next time, instead of talking to my students right away, I’ll wait until I’m prepared to be compassionate and understanding.  I’ll stop, take a deep breath, and then think before I speak.


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