Last Wednesday morning, at our schoolâ€™s monthly professional development meeting, each staff member was given a few minutes to solve a challenging math word problem involving fractions. One teacher, who normally pays obsessive attention to detail, misread the question and then, during the share-out, unwittingly revealed the result of this error with the group. Of course, that teacher was me, and I was a bit embarrassed at what I had done.
We open all of our professional development sessions with these types of questions, and they are great because they remind us what it is like to be a student. Because, as teachers, we are always the ones posing the questions, rather than the ones attempting to answer them, it is easy to forget how it feels to make a mistake in front of your peers and feel vulnerable. Students feel this way all the time, and though I try to be sensitive to this fact, my experience last Wednesday brought my understanding of student vulnerability to a new level.
Since then, I have noticed some subtle changes in how I communicate with my kids during lessons and whole class discussions. Before introducing challenging material, for example, I find myself prefacing my instruction with sentences such as, â€œI know this part may be a bit trickyâ€ and â€œBe careful when youâ€™re doing this step because I sometimes have trouble, and I need to remind myself to slow down and be extra careful.â€
When I communicate in this manner, Iâ€™m helping my students relax, gain comfort with the idea of making mistakes, and realize that both adults and children struggle sometimes. As a result, I believe I am creating a more understanding learning environment.
There are many well-known quotes about mistakes and about how it is important to see them not as something bad, but as valuable learning opportunities. As teachers, we all know this, but I have learned that this positive view of mistakes becomes even more relevant when we have just made one publicly ourselves.