I decided to help my students design their own manifestos again this year. (Here is the link to last year’s post about this.) To get them started thinking about their core beliefs, I first showed them this video from Gretchen Rubin, which I found out about from Larry Ferlazzo.
Then I started giving them words, and just asked them to write or draw whatever came to mind in their notebooks. For example, “Leadership,” was one of the words.
When I said, “Mistakes,” I added, “and try not to just write what your teachers always say – like, ‘We always learn from our mistakes,’ or “Making mistakes helps us to grow.'”
There was silence. Finally, one student said, “You’re really the only one that says that to us, Mrs. Eichholz.” Several of the others nodded in agreement. Then someone mumbled under their breath, “And means it.”
I was stunned. I know I’ve heard other teachers say this. I’ve witnessed it. I’ve seen quotes in their classrooms. It’s repeated all over social media. How could I be the only one they are hearing this from? How could these 5th graders, many who had attended this same school for six years, not have heard this message from anyone but me?
When I thought about it, I came up with several reasons. First of all, many of these students have attended my weekly pull-out class for years. I’ve definitely been consistent about saying that we need to turn mistakes into learning opportunities. In fact, it’s on my own manifesto that I made last year:
Secondly, and more importantly probably, I don’t just say it. I make a daily effort to praise the hard work that students do in my class and the mistakes they’ve learned from. I let them use pen whenever they want so they often have a permanent record of their mistakes. I try not to praise students who finish first, even if they get the whole thing correct. Instead, I say, “Gosh, I guess I need to make it harder next time!” I constantly tell my students about my own mistakes. Sometimes I do hard riddles or math problems with them so they can see all of my “mess ups” as I try to figure them out. Finally, we spend a lot of time on improving things – getting and giving feedback and making things better.
In a regular classroom, these things are hard to do. The way our school system is set up, you are rewarded for perfection, not struggle. Unfortunately, students know that you’re still going to get points taken off if you make a mistake, so it makes it difficult for them to embrace them. And there is rarely time to spend on improvement if you want to stick to the scope and sequence.
I just read The Culture Code (a book I’ll be reviewing next week on this blog), by Daniel Coyle. In the book, Coyle tells the story of Johnson and Johnson’s manifesto – which they call, “The Credo.” The first part of the “Credo” states, “We believe our first responsibility is to the doctors, nurses and patients, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services.” According to Coyle, the company regularly reviews this “Credo” to make sure it still aligns with their mission. It informs important decisions. For example, when the Tylenol poisoning crisis happened, Johnson and Johnson took all of its Tylenol off the shelves at a cost of $100 million, despite the advice of many experts who thought this was not necessary. It initially cost the company quite a bit, but they stood by their “Credo.” When the public realized that this corporation valued the lives of its customers over its bottom line, market shares in Tylenol actually began to rise.
Like Johnson and Johnson, we educators need to decide what our beliefs are and make our actions consistent with them to the greatest extent possible. If we want students to be willing to take more risks, become independent thinkers, we have to stop penalizing them for it.