Education, K-12, Motivation

Make No Mistake About It

I’ve become a bit concerned with how the word “failure” has been flung around lately – as though it is something we should strive for and flaunt.  I understand the sentiment behind this – growth mindset, stepping outside our comfort zone, taking risks, etc…  But “failure” will never have anything but a negative connotation to me.  To me, it is synonymous with “loser” or “quitter,” and features prominently in the speech of bullies.

What I do want my students to understand is that they shouldn’t be so afraid of making mistakes that they become fearful of attempting new adventures.  I am careful with how I speak about this in class, though.  I don’t want students to feel like mistakes are a goal; they are simply a possible by-product of learning. (Notice that I say “possible,” not “necessary.”  Learning can happen without mistakes in many circumstances – so I think it is wrong to tell students mistakes are required in order to learn.)

The truth is that not all mistakes are equally valuable.  There are different types of mistakes as well as different types of reactions, and I want my students to understand that. That’s why I was really excited when I came across this article from “Mindset Works”.  It includes this great visual that I think really explains the classification of mistakes.


As you can see, the potential for learning exists in all mistakes, but “sloppy mistakes” (what I usually call “careless mistakes”) are probably not going to yield as much benefit as “stretch mistakes”.  According to the article, “Stretch mistakes happen when we’re working to expand our current abilities. We’re not trying to make these mistakes in that we’re not trying to do something incorrectly, but instead, we’re trying to do something that is beyond what we already can do without help, so we’re bound to make some errors.”

So, as we teach our students about growth mindset and the “Power of Yet,” I think it is important that we avoid glorifying failure.  Instead, we should help our students to understand that, though they shouldn’t be steering straight for mistakes, they should recognize the types of mistakes and always reflect on lessons that can be learned.

Education, K-5, Teaching Tools, Videos

The Roses of Success

Edutopia’s Amy Erin Borovoy (@VideoAmy) recently curated a collection of videos that she titled, “Freedom to Fail Forward.” Always looking for ways to teach my younger students about developing a Growth Mindset, I was pleased to see that her final suggestion was a clip from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang called, “The Roses of Success.”

Here is a sample of the song lyrics:

“Every bursted bubble has a glory!
Each abysmal failure makes a point!
Every glowing path that goes astray,
Shows you how to find a better way.
So every time you stumble never grumble.
Next time you’ll bumble even less!
For up from the ashes, up from the ashes, grow the roses of success!”

As you can see, the message of the song is to learn from your mistakes and to use those setbacks to help yourself to improve.

image from
image from

Visit Video Amy’s post for this video and other recommendations for learning to “fail forward.”

For more Growth Mindset links, check out this Pinterest Board!

Education, K-12

Teachers Need a Growth Mindset, Too

Before I start, I want to assure you that this is not a post asking for sympathy or reassurance.

Some people might read my blog and come away with the mistaken impression that I am a very confident person who is an amazingly effective teacher.  That is very far from the truth.  I try to keep this blog positive so others will be inspired – and there is enough negativity in the world of education without me adding to it. However, I don’t want to give the false impression that I’m a super teacher who somehow manages to transcend all of the real-world problems that teachers face every day.

So, allow me to share some of my not-so-super thoughts from the last 7 days.  These were just some of the real moments of doubt that infused my brain last week:

  • Why can’t those 2 boys just work on their Cardboard Challenge projects instead of wandering around and getting off-task?  Why can’t I motivate them enough to stay on-task?
  • Why did only 4 out of 18 students in my 5th grade class do the assignments they volunteered to do on their own time last week? Now we have no videos or announcements to advertise the Cardboard Challenge and it’s only a week away!  What made me think they would actually work on this at home?  Just because it’s a priority for me doesn’t mean it’s a priority for them.
  • Are my students learning anything from doing this project?  Or is it just an excuse for them to play around?
  • I can’t believe I didn’t test all of the laptops before we tried to use them this afternoon.  How is it that only 3 out of 8 laptops will even let the students log in – and the ones that do let them log in won’t show Google Classroom because the browser is too old, and our district Software Center won’t let me update them?  What a waste of 45 minutes plus the 20 minutes I took to prepare the assignment in the first place!
  • If a student thinks it’s funny to flick a piece of a cardboard and it makes a direct hit to another student’s eyeball, which he didn’t intend but it happened anyway, what consequence should follow and am I a bad teacher for not preventing it happening in the first place?
  • Why did I order twenty 6 in. packing tape refills for our six 3 in. dispensers?  Am I getting so close to retirement that I’m incapable of doing math now?
  • If giving my students the freedom to create is such a good thing, then why do I feel grumpy and have a giant headache?

I have to admit that I was feeling pretty glum and and worthless by the end of last week.  I loved the ideas my students and our Maker Club came up with for Cardboard Challenge, but I had huge doubts about the actual value of the whole experience.

I would like to say that I had an epiphany or that a student said something that made everything worthwhile.  But that’s not generally the case in real life, and it hasn’t happened here. Just like many teachers, I suspect, I have to talk my self down off the ledge several times a week.

My students are not the only ones who need to work on fostering a Growth Mindset. Instead of feeling powerless and worthless, I also need to make an effort to figure out what I’ve been doing wrong and fix it.  Instead of “throwing out the baby with the bath water,” (which is kind of a horrible idiom when you think about it!) I need to remember that some things are actually working and make adjustments to the ones that aren’t.


Books, Education, K-12, Motivation, Reading, Teaching Tools

Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us


Recently, one parent loaned me a book by Seth Godin.  Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us would probably not have taken me quite so long to read if I wasn’t stopping to take notes every 5 seconds! I found a lot of applications to teaching and learning that I definitely found valuable.

One of the popular conversations in education these days is the need to teach our students how to deal with failure.  I’m going to save my thoughts on that for another post.  But I found that Seth Godin had some interesting things to say about the tendency to fear failure.  According to him, “what people are afraid of isn’t failure.  It’s blame.”  He goes on to say that any thing that is really worth doing is going to generate conversation – and probably criticism.  He urges, “If the only side effect of the criticism is that you will feel bad about the criticism, then you have to compare that bad feeling with the benefits you’ll get from actually doing something worth doing.”  I think that’s a great message that we should convey to our students.

Along those same lines, Godin gives the secret of being wrong. I hope he doesn’t mind if I divulge that right now.  “The secret of being wrong isn’t to avoid being wrong!  The secret is being willing to be wrong.  The secret is realizing that wrong isn’t fatal.”

I deal with this in the classroom daily.  Students will be afraid to even attempt an answer sometimes.  I sometimes coax them into it by asking them to think of the worst thing that will happen if they are wrong.  Or I point out a recent incident (and trust me, there are many) when I was wrong and I surprisingly did not self-destruct. Invariably, I can convince the student to take a risk by using those techniques.

I have many other notes, but I will leave you with one last thought that I read near the end of the book.  As is often the case in my life, the timing could not have been more perfect.  You see, the day before I read this particular passage, I took my 5th grade class on a tour of Rackspace, a company located near us that has been named one of the top companies to work for.  In a section of Godin’s book called, “Ronald Reagan’s Secret,” Seth Godin gives the example of Graham Weston, executive chairman of Rackspace, who needed to convince his employees of the wisdom of a recent business decision. Instead of giving a speech to persuade them, however, Weston met with every single employee “who was hesitating about the move and let them air their views.  That’s what it took to lead them: he listened.”

So often, that is what our students need.  They just need someone to listen, to assure them that their voice has been heard.

Teachers like that, too – every once in awhile 😉