Blog Post

#dojoChatEU: Learning from mistakes in the classroom

Every week, I delve through ClassDojo’s Twitter chat and answer the questions that were posed. This week, our own Ciara Brennan, (@primedteacher), was the moderator and the topic was all about learning from mistakes. As usual, here and the questions and my answers.

Q1. Failure is the mother of success. Do you agree or disagree?

A good question to start us off. I like this phrase about mistakes being like a mother (or father!) In the same way as we can’t get success without making mistakes, children can’t happen without being born, usually from their mother. Effectively, if one compares efforts to generations, at some point one of the offspring will be a success! There’s hope for us all 😀

Q2. How do you cope with failure in your own role as an educator?

I make mistakes all the time and usually they help me get better at my job. I’ve been a principal for eight years now and I don’t recognise that same 29 year old who started the job. However, I expect I won’t recognise my current self in 8 years time either as I’m still learning all the time. However, one thing to consider is how others cope with my mistakes. Being a principal is a very unforgiving place and one mistake can ruin a relationship forever. Having said that, any decision, even if it is the right one, can do that too!

I thought this Twitter poll that Ciara took was interesting.

Q3. How do you encourage your students to learn from their mistakes?

I think this probably comes down to role modeling and setting the scene in the classroom. Children shouldn’t fear making mistakes or trying things. I remember one of the most depressing things I found when I was teaching was the child who said: I can’t… For some reason, this mainly happened in Art classes. Maths and Gaeilge were also prime subjects for fear of failing. I think if a teacher can convince a child that it’s ok to make mistakes, most of the battle in learning is won. I like the idea of having posters about the classroom with slogans about making mistakes and why it’s ok.

Q4. Is risk taking necessary in education?

Yes and thankfully in Ireland, we still can do this. I pity our neighbours in the UK where every element of risk puts one in danger of losing their job due to the overkill of box ticking and assessing every move a child makes. Unfortunately, in Ireland, we tend to follow whatever the UK does and we are in serious danger of taking risk out of the classroom. The word “standardised” is an enemy to children’s learning.

Q5. Everyone has moments of failure in work. What did you learn from your ‘big mistake’?

I remember my first public mistake when I started teaching because I did it in front of the principal. This was back in the day when I was unqualified so I was effectively making stuff up as I went along. I was teaching PE and the kids were going mental. The more mental they were going, the louder my voice went. The principal came over to me and gave me the best advice I ever received and one that has stayed with me since. He taught me about the power of silence and told me to not compete with the children’s noise, to just stand there and look like I was waiting for them and to whisper. Not only did it work, it probably saved my throat!

Q6. Does success always mean the opposite to failure in education?

Only if we’re teaching opposites! However, in reality, a failure only happens when you give up. I wouldn’t describe anything in between as a failure, I’d describe it as an attempt or a step along the path to success.

Q7. And finally, advice time! How can teachers/students get ‘back on track’ after a knock?

It’s important to forgive yourself. Sometimes, we mess up and sometimes even if we can’t fix it, we just have to say to ourselves that there’s nothing that can be done and that next time we will do things differently.

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