Hooray for mistakes

Today, with the help of a skilled friend, I finished building a cubby house for my kids. It looks great and it’s very cool to have it done, but we made quite a few mistakes along the way and there were plenty of challenges to overcome. (It took three days when we thought it would take one!) It was my first proper building project and I learned a lot.

The thing is, none of the ‘mistakes’ felt like we’d ‘got it wrong’. I wasn’t deflated or demotivated or embarrassed. If anything, the mistakes were kind of exciting, and were very powerful learning experiences – they were meaningful mistakes.

Where students (and teachers) sometimes go wrong, is that they confuse learning states with performance states. In a learning state, mistakes are crucial and highly valuable. If we’re not making mistakes during learning, we’re not tackling difficult enough problems. In performance states, mistakes are bad. We don’t want our dentist to make a mistake when she’s drilling into our teeth. We do though, want her to have made as many mistakes as possible and learned from them all in dentistry school!

Schools are a place to learn – they should be a safe place to make mistakes, to take risks, to try new ideas and to stuff up sometimes. It’s easy to forget that schools are not about performance, they are are about learning. We must get better at encouraging, rewarding and even celebrating meaningful mistakes.

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David Bott

Hi, I'm David Bott, Associate Director of the Institute of Positive Education in Australia.

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