You know that oh-so-wonderful Sheryl Crow song, “you're my favorite mistake”, right? Well…what if mistakes were something you celebrated in your classroom? What if you worked to strengthen and build the relationship between students and teachers THROUGH mistakes? What if honoring our mistakes as adults, instead of glossing over them, could teach kids to be confident to try, and possibly make a mistake?
YOU CAN. You ABSOLUTELY can! Not sure if you agree? Read on my friend…
Speaking of mistakes…as a kindergarten teacher for 10 years, I've made MORE than my fair share! I have learned FROM those mistakes, however, and am super happy to share what I've learned over the years – to help you avoid unnecessary drama!
If you are a parent of a soon-to-be or in-a-few-years future kindergartener, be sure to download my free PDF and get yourself in the know and ready to go!
if you want to build the relationship you want with your students – start with yourself:
Mistakes at Work
Our elementary school staff recently had a professional development session called, “Building Learning Communities”, led by a charismatic and very wise man, Dr. Dave Moore. We were instructed to move the tables to the center of the room and put our chairs in a circle. As we did so, he gave a running commentary of things we were probably thinking:
I don't want to sit in a circle. I want my normal buddy. When is lunch?
He wasn't wrong.
We were given instructions to talk to someone we normally wouldn't talk to, and find out three things:
- The name of their high school
- The name of the college or university they attended
- One fun fact
Easy enough, right? Well…
You think you know what you're doing
…until you DON'T.
There are a couple of new teachers – and I was sitting beside one. I know her as Miss Kidwell. She's in 4th. I'm in kindergarten – miles and miles away from the 4th-grade floor (so it seems).
We happily started chatting away and I learned that she was from Indiana, had gone to high school and college there, and had been in 4H for 9 years, and was a champion for showing her cat, Mittens. I briefly told her I'd gone to Murray High in Murray, Kentucky, Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas, and had taught aerobics in the early 90s at Razz-Ma-Tazz dance studio. (Think poor man's Jazzercise.)
Dr. Dave chimed his bell for us to stop. ALL good. Right? Ummm…
You know that feeling when your heart drops from completely confident to….NOT?
Dr. Dave and his partner stood up and modeled for us. His partner said confidently, “This is Dr. DAVE Moore and ….”
MY. HEART. STOPPED.
Ohhh my gosh. WHAT WAS Miss Kidwell's FIRST name?? Was it Emily? No…that's not right. That's the new 2nd-grade teacher. KEVIN!? Good grief, no. That's the new 5th-grade teacher's name!
I leaned over as cooly as I could to my work wife, Jenny. I ventriloquist-mouthed the words, “What's her first name?” as I rolled my eyes to the left in an effort to point without pointing.
She said, “Maremmmah.”
“MAR. IS. Ahhh“.
Ohhh! YES!! MARISSA!! Got it.
I, in fact, did not feel like I “got it”. I started wheeling and dealing in my mind, trying to make myself feel better that I had ‘misplaced' her first name. If I got it wrong, I would make her feel horrible. How awful for me to introduce her incorrectly? Would that make her feel like she wasn't welcome? Redness crept up my chest and onto my neck – giving away my nervousness.
I missed almost ALL of what everyone else shared. I was mad at myself.
This was not going to be My Favorite Mistake.
It was almost our turn. My heart was beating a bit faster. This was SO ridiculous. WHY was I afraid to just lean over and ask her for clarification? Surely she'd understand? We hadn't spent any time together before this moment, so…
WE WERE NEXT. She leaned over to me. She was smiling.
“It's Kaci, right?” (insert bug-eyed emoji here)
“YES! Marissa, right?”
“Yep! Your last name….is it Meyers?” (insert mind-blown emoji here)
“Meyers? Um…nope. Scott. Well – Bolls-Scott. But they call me Mrs. Scott”
A wave of calm swept from my head to my toes. I had to bite my lip to stop a full-out laugh. MEYERS?
There's no one in our school with that last name. However – I thought it was hilarious. I WISH I had been introduced as Kaci Meyers. Why? Because we all would have busted out laughing and broken through any tension that was in that circle.
SHE WAS UNAFRAID – CONFIDENT – GUTSY.
Here I am…going into my 6th year with this close-knit small staff. She's only a month in.
How in the world was I the one afraid to make a mistake?
Mistakes Make You Stronger
I find it ironic that one of the biggest focuses in my classroom is to build the relationship I want to foster and form between students. I try to guide us into community and team-building so they aren't afraid to take risks and possibly make mistakes.
Why? Learning from our mistakes makes us stronger.
Feeling like you can take a chance in front of your peers is an environment that I work hard to create. However, from the previous story I shared, it's evident that even the strongest environment needs to constantly be nurtured.
Dr. Dave Moore pointed out to us the similarities. What we were feeling in that circle as adults – uncomfortable, awkward, wanting to ‘get it right' – is no different from what our students feel.
We are adults with experience. They are not.
We have to model mistakes at work. This will only help to build the relationship between students.
The importance of building relationships with students
Most teachers will say that building relationships with students is a non-negotiable in their classroom. You MUST have strong relationships to be able to have a mistake-friendly classroom. But, I still hear stories of struggling to make that a reality. So…HOW do you build relationships that allow for this culture where kids aren't afraid to make mistakes?
- Through stories
- Through humor
- Through transparency
TELL STORIES. LISTEN TO THIERS.
My kindergarteners LOVE to hear stories of when I was a little girl.
They can't believe that I took 2 pieces of bubble gum from our local grocery store and hid them in my Sunday School sock drawer. (they also can't believe I had a drawer dedicated to Sunday socks!) I get to the point in the story where they know my mom didn't know…and I change the subject.
In a unanimous chorus, I hear, “WAIT!! WHAT HAPPENED??” So…I tell them.
I then proceed to have them tell me what I should have done, and hopefully, they can learn from my mistake!
They also LOVE to hear about the mischief that my 2 Birddog brothers, Tuck & Coop, have gotten into – or even me getting in trouble for talking at faculty meetings!
Mistakes. We ALL make them.
We just have to be willing, as adults, to SHOW THEM that it's part of learning. Through this, you are building relationships in the classroom.
THROUGH HUMOR. LAUGH…A LOT.
If there is one thing I love the most about my marriage: it's how much we laugh.
My husband has the best sense of humor. I love that I can make him laugh so hard that he cries. I love that he doesn't take himself too seriously, and can turn a highly intense moment into a lighter one with just a quick quip or look.
If there is one thing I love the most about my work wife & teacher bestie: it's how much we laugh.
I have met my match when it comes to busting out Beastie Boy raps, trying to recreate stellar dance moves, or taking a quick field trip for a caffeine boost.
I. LOVE. TO. LAUGH.
My kids know that about me. I can be serious, and of course, at times need to be. However, laughing with your kids, at yourself, and at your mistakes, is one of the best ways to not only build relationships with them but to model for them that not taking yourself too seriously is a whole heck of a lot more fun than worrying what others will think if mistakes are made.
For a great article about managing conflicts with humor – not only in the classroom but with all of your relationships: READ HERE.
You know how they say laughter is the best medicine? I agree. READ MORE HERE.
THROUGH TRANSPARENCY. KINDA LIKE CELLOPHANE.
I believe in transparency. It may take me a bit to realize and work through what it is I'm feeling or have experienced before I can share – but I make it a goal to get there.
For instance – clearly, when I took the bubblegum 40+ years ago – it took me a hot minute to come clean. (well…a hot 24 hours) But once I did – the relief I felt was epic.
How does transparency work in the classroom?
In the classroom, I make mistakes constantly. For instance, something as simple as forgetting to change whatever related arts class we have on the board. It may say P.E. from the day before, and it needs to say art.
When we are having our morning meeting, someone will inevitably notice that I've forgotten to make the switch. I'll say, “OH my goodness. OOPS! My mistake…can someone help me fix that?” Then I'll smile and say, “thank you!” It may seem simple, but modeling with the little things is key.
I don't follow…how does that really help?
Case in point: I have had kids who crumble over seemingly small tasks.
If I say, “let's be sure to leave our work on our desk so it's ready to finish up after recess” – I'll hear, “Mrs. Scott! ‘so and so‘ is crying!!” When I rush to them to learn why they are upset, the answer is, “I already put my work up! I didn't leave it on my desk!”
To be honest, it's a bit shocking to see sometimes what can unravel a child. It could be they are extra tired, or not feeling well – but some really struggle with just not getting it perfect every time.
How do you fix this? Try saying, “Oh! Not a problem. Let's just take it back out of your chair pocket and put in on your desk…like THIS! Tadah!” Once they see your reaction is not one of disappointment, but one of helpfulness – in time they start to shake off the small stuff.
And…the small stuff WILL add up to help out with the big stuff! Give it time.
Building Relationships in the classroom
Mr. Todd is a 3rd grade math teacher at our school. He is jovial and jolly and gives the best bear hugs. He does something in his classroom that I'm slightly obsessed with. Everytime someone makes a mistake, the whole class will shout, “THANK YOU FOR THE LEARNING OPPORTUNITY!”
They then take a moment and work through the mistake – to find what DOES work. Isn't that GENIOUS?
We get to do a peer observation once a semester, and last year I went to hang out in his class. Now, math wasn't my forté. I was stunned at how they worked through a quick batch of review type items individually, then how FREELY they shared out their thinking and answers.
A mistake was made – and I witnessed for myself the happy chorus of “THANK YOU FOR THE LEARNING OPPORTUNITY!” Talk about INSPIRING. Some of those 3rd graders who were confidently sharing out had been those timid non-risk takers in kindergarten.
Do you think I took this into my own classroom? HECK YES I DID.
Mr. Todd – Thank you for the learning opportunity!
Even the BEST and BRIGHTEST make MISTAKES. Actually…don't you think that's what MADE them the BEST and BRIGHTEST?
I want to leave you with an excerpt from this wonderful article, “The Mistake Imperative—Why We Must Get Over Our Fear of Student Error”, by Youki Terada.
I found this story fascinating – and inspiring.
When Disneyland opened in 1955, it was a disaster. Although 15,000 visitors were expected, nearly twice as many descended upon the park, thanks to thousands of counterfeit tickets. Guests were plagued by long lines, malfunctioning rides, and a shortage of food. To top it all off, a tiger and a panther escaped from the circus, terrifying children and parents on Disney’s suddenly family-unfriendly Main Street. The day having been dubbed “Black Sunday” by his employees, Walt Disney took it all in stride. “If you do big things, you make big mistakes,” he told reporters.
Talk about learning from your mistakes. WOW. (Also…that term family-unfriendly cracked me up)
One of my favorite albums growing up was a Sesame Street album. Big Bird had a song called, “Everyone Makes Mistakes”. I still know every word. Maybe we could all use a refresher from our fine, feathered friend.
Big Bird – Take it home buddy:
Everyone makes mistakes, oh yes they do! Your sister and your brother and your dad and mother too. BIG people – small people – matter of fact, ALL PEOPLE, everyone makes mistakes so why can't YOU?
IF everyone in the WHOLE WIDE WORLD makes mistakes then….
(big finish here…get out your jazz hands)
WHYYYYYY – CAAAN'TTT – YOUUUUU???
Fact is, you CAN. You SHOULD.
And…I know you wanna know what happened after I came clean about the bubble gum, dontcha? 😉