Mistakes and Real Learning

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Our brains change when we learn. Learning new habits and skills makes us think and act differently. One challenge we all face when practicing a new habit or skill is the act of acknowledging and embracing mistakes. When we commit a mistake, we have an opportunity to experience real learning that can profoundly change our behaviour.

Paul Tough[1] describes in How Children Succeed – Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character how a chess teacher helps her students to identify their mistakes. “Spiegel tries to lead her students down a narrow and difficult path: to have them take responsibility for their mistakes and learn from them without obsessing over them or beating themselves up for them.” Tough continues to describe the learning process by stating, “you have to find a way to separate yourself from your mistakes or your losses…losing is something you do, not something you are.”

There are benefits for educators when they adopt a change philosophy like the one described by Tough. When change is implemented across classrooms, schools and/or districts, educators who de-personalize the experience are better able to self-reflect and determine how the change will better serve student learning. When educators de-personalize their work, they become better examiners of their practice, identify areas for improvement and devote meaningful time to improve.

Educators do not require more supervision or appraisals to improve professional learning. No, they require more coaching and mentoring, like what Spiegel provides to her chess students. Coaching and mentoring can be provided by administrators, but quality coaching and mentoring can also come from other teachers, instructional coaches, or even online connections within a professional learning network/team/community. This list identifies just a few of the many relationships which educator can commit to so they can better identify mistakes, learn, and make meaningful change.

By the way, Tough’s book, How Children Succeed is a great read.


[1]http://www.paultough.com Twitter: @paultough

One thought on “Mistakes and Real Learning

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