I teach Year 2 a course in Growth Mindset and the children explained that their parents are not happy when they make mistakes. I suppose it might depend on the nature of the mistake - there are careless mistakes, mistakes made when not enough preparation is done, and there are mistakes made when tackling something difficult. I can imagine that a parent may not be pleased if they have spent time with a child learning their spellings and they return with a lot of errors.
However, whatever kind of mistake it is, we need to back off a little and allow it to be, because we need to remove a child's fear of failure, as it is this that will stop them from attempting challenging work, as they will want to stay in their comfort zone in order to avoid displeasing their parents and teachers by making errors. As I have mentioned in my previous blogs, FAIL can stand for First Attempt in Learning.
During the assembly this morning I did actually demonstrate this in action. I didn't only forget the title of the assembly but also lost what I was trying to say while speaking. I could have been embarrassed or cross with myself, but I actually forgave myself - mostly! - and moved on. It was a useful example to be able to give to the children in Mindfulness later in the day, when we were talking about having emotional wobbles and how to stay steady in those situations, whether caused by something external, or something that we have allowed our mind to dwell on.
The Mindfulness sessions in Years 4 and 6 are running in tandem in that the subject area is similar but it is dealt with in different ways. Both courses are dealing with how we can be thrown by events in our lives, and then how we often dwell on it and make things far worse by turning it over and over in our minds. We get the ‘hot cross bun effect’ which is that our thoughts affect our feelings which cause physical sensations which lead us to take actions which we might then regret.
There is a useful analogy in the Year 6 material of a cow ruminating - it chews the cud and regurgitates it over and over again.
Mindfulness also encourages the children to treat themselves and their thoughts with kindness and curiosity. So they don't beat themselves up about their mistakes but forgive themselves so that they can move on and take the next step. We all have our off-days, for whatever reason, and therefore we need to be forgiving also to our children when they get something wrong through carelessness. But we need to be even more forgiving when they make mistakes through trying something new and challenging. Because the danger if we don't is that they will be too afraid to take any risks with their learning and will want to stay perfect in our eyes, which could stunt their growth in many ways. The great inventors have all taken risks and thought ‘outside the box’. There are many examples of innovators who failed many times and, if they hadn't persevered, wouldn't have made the discoveries for which they became famous.
Our value throughout the school this week has been Persistence. In assembly on Monday I showed the children a clip of a student who had travelled up a mountain to get to an ashram and, having reached it, knocks on the door. The teacher points to the side and the student interprets this as telling him to go away. He then meditates outside the ashram through the night and when he is discovered the next day the teacher points again. The student gets angry and he uses karate to kick the door. Again the teacher points to the side but this time the student looks in this direction and sees the sign that says 'Use side entrance.'
The children were able to understand that the student was showing Persistence in his determination to enter the ashram but he was mistaken in his interpretation of what he was being told. He was trying the same way into the ashram without exploring other avenues. When a child is having difficulty in understanding something, he/she might need to look at it from different angles and try an alternative way i.e. think outside the box. Often it is by looking at a problem from many angles that an answer is found, whether it is a maths sum in a children's book or a life-threatening problem that needs a solution or invention. To do this, one needs courage. One can only show courage if fear does not incapacitate, and therefore we need to encourage our children to show fearlessness and give them permission to make mistakes.
There is a quote, "Leap and the net will appear", which is sometimes attributed to an unknown Zen source, but it is, in fact, a quote by American naturalist John Burroughs. We need to have the courage to take that leap of faith, to step into the dark without knowing what will happen. Public speaking can be like that, even when you are only summing up an assembly! You don't know what you will say, you can't prepare it because you haven't known what the assembly will contain but you forgive yourself, otherwise you would never speak again for fear of 'failure'.
So let's celebrate failure! It's necessary in order to succeed. It's not the same as allowing a child to coast through lack of effort, but we know the difference. We want the children to take the tricky next step and enjoy the challenge of trying, without worrying about what their parents will say if there are some crosses in their book. We are telling the children that there should be crosses because otherwise it shows that the work is too easy for them and there is not enough stretch, and without the stretch their brains won't grow - this is a scientific fact. The new connections of neurons are made through really thinking something through that is challenging.
So by making a couple of mistakes in the assembly summing-up this morning I was able to use my own example to help the children understand that they shouldn't beat themselves up or feel bad about something when it doesn't go smoothly. So already my mistake has been a learning experience for others...as well as being fodder for my blog!
And all this leads seamlessly into our next week's value, which is Resilience!
I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're doing something.
A life spent making mistakes is not only more honourable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.
George Bernard Shaw