One afternoon in my son’s first week of third grade, he came bounding off the school bus, grinning wide.
We would learn later that year about his learning disabilities that had paused his reading progression at the pre-primer level. And, as literacy is the heart of all learning, this made school arduous for him.
But that day, he practically skipped across the front yard into my arms. (I was still allowed public hugs back then.)
“Momma! Momma!” he said. “Do you know what my teacher said to us today???!!”
I didn’t! What did she say?
“Someone answered a problem wrong, and she stood up,” he raised two fists in the air to mimic her enthusiasm, “and she screamed, ‘YESSSSSS!!! SOMEONE FINALLY MADE A MISTAKE!!!’”
Still flabbergasted at his luck to get a teacher like this, he went on to explain her teaching philosophy. If no one in the class ever made a mistake, all she would have to do is sit at her desk and hand out papers. And that was boring. And it’s not why she became a teacher. It was only when someone made a mistake (the bigger, the better), that she could finally TEACH.
The corollary to this, of course, was that only through mistakes could the students truly learn.
That teacher, Jennifer Hayden, created an environment in which my son, faltering literacy and all, could flourish. Mistakes were rewarded with little prizes if you owned up to them and did the work to fix them. He wasn’t afraid to admit his shortcomings anymore. No one in the class was.
Ms. Hayden was the teacher who ultimately identified his special education needs and lobbied for his inclusion in the special ed program. She stayed after school with him to continue working on his reading. And she continued to jump up and down and hoot and holler and celebrate every time he made a mistake.
To this day, he says he’d rather do something wrong and learn from it than to do something right but not understand how he did it. And you know what? He still makes mistakes. We still celebrate them. Because those mistakes got him reading on grade level. Mistakes are what put him on the honor roll.
Do you have the same relationship with mistakes and failures in your life? Do you see them as the opportunity that they are? To learn, and grow, and fully understand?
Owning Up to Your Mistakes
The next time you totally mess up, steeped in failure, beating yourself up for the how-could-you-be-so-stupid move you made, try this:
- Write down the mistake. And I mean all the gory details. What happened? Where did it all go wrong? Who was hurt or annoyed or inconvenienced in the process?
- Celebrate it. And make sure you do it in front of your children. Let them see you fail and embrace that failure as part of the human experience. Have a dance party, do an old high school cheer in your kitchen, post it on Facebook, give out hugs and high fives. Congratulations, you have just been presented with an opportunity to grow!
- Write down the lesson you learned. If you had a chance at a do-over, what would you do differently? Was it really just your brain shorting out in a moment of human oops-ness? Or is there a system or process in your life that you could shift slightly to catch or prevent the mistake from happening again?
- Move on! Keep going, keep growing, grab the power and knowledge you just earned and use it to live your best life.