Above the door to my son’s third grade teacher’s classroom door hung a sign that said, “Make Mistakes”. That was a perfect message for our son that struggled with a sense of perfectionism that didn’t leave space for making mistakes.
A message I get from my pre-service teachers in elementary science is the discomfort they feel with making mistakes. Our first night we spend deliberate time establishing guiding principles for our class that emphasizes the importance of a safe environment allowing space to take risks in order to learn. Every night we engage in some kind of exploration, often on concepts they are not very comfortable with, yet concepts that are strikingly commonplace. Concepts like why there are seasons. When asked to consider an explanation, the response is typically somewhere between a blank look and confusion. Out of 18 students this semester, there were only a few that were able to offer an explanation that approximated an accurate understanding of the phenomenon. We are able to laugh at their responses in class and laugh at ourselves. I think it is is honest laughter. Yet, that deeply embedded need to be right, and to know, to not make mistakes, raises its ugly head. They reflect in their notebooks of this struggle. They know it gets in their way. They don’t like to be wrong. Yet, how do we learn and grow in underdeveloped areas of understanding without giving ourselves permission to be wrong and to learn from our mistakes.
Thomas Edison was known to have had thousands of failures before he invented the light bulb. Without those mistakes, we may still be sitting in the dark. My students will go out and become teachers themselves. Before they can have significant impact on their students, they need to accept that message above my son’s third grade classroom door and boldly go about making mistakes on a routine and daily basis. Only when we allow ourselves the space to make mistakes can we deeply and truly learn.