What if we all stopped trying to be perfect and start learning from our errors?
Teachers naturally want to perform well and do an exemplary job in the classroom. We want our students and co-workers to see us as amazing! We put forth so much effort trying to achieve greatness that we may be missing great learning opportunities. The effort and mistakes we make could lead us to learning new lessons or deepening our understanding. Dwek’s idea of a growth mindset can have an impact on collaboration and teacher growth. If a teacher has a fixed mindset, they may view the success of others as a failure of their own. They see weakness in making mistakes or they may not try to implement new ideas because of the fear of failure of making a mistake. When someone achieves great things, that makes teachers with a fixed mindset feel discouraged or inadequate. Teachers with a growth mindset are more likely to share ideas and collaborate because the conversations could lead to both teachers learning. They are more likely to try, and sometimes fail, at new strategies or ideas because they believe the failure leads to learning. Teachers should be encouraged to see others’ success as a way to grow, collaborate, and share information to have an impact on all learners.
This translates directly to students. Students may want to impress their teachers and peers. The growth mindset can encourage learners to see their mistakes and the success of others as a way to grow and learn. These students will often embrace challenges and risk failure to grow. When teachers push their students to complete difficult tasks that they may not know how to solve, they can push them to try new strategies or require them to depend on peers for help and support. In addition, teachers can become more aware of areas to reteach and focus instruction when errors occur and identified by students.
Everyone has the desire to be successful, but success often comes after a long line of mistakes and errors.
Michael is an Instructional Coach at Alcoa Elementary School. He has been an educator for 11 years. He received the East Tennessee PreK-4 Teacher of the Year in 2014 and the Wal-Mart teacher of the year in 2004. Michael is currently working on the Tennessee Standards Mathematics Review Committee and as a Teacher Partner in his school collaborating with teachers to impact student achievement. He was a Common Core Mathematics Coach in 2013. He is a graduate of The University of Tennessee, Knoxville with a Bachelor’s of Science and a Masters Degree in Child and Family Studies. He holds an Education Specialist Degree in Instructional Leadership from Lincoln Memorial University. He also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging his colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.
Similarly, in the classroom, a student may ask the question, “Are we there yet?” in the form of “Do we need to do all of this? Just give me the answer. Is it on the test?” During the past few years, the most important aspect of a student’s educational experiences has focused on end-of-year testing, partially due to pressure for students to perform effectively according to Race to the Top. Conversations by legislators, school boards, communities, teachers, parents, and students have centered on the standards and raising the bar in education through “the test.” Tests are a part of the process in evaluating student growth and achievement. Consider that learning along the way is much more meaningful when engaging and inspiring students while reflecting upon each educational experience.
Why should students be engaged in their learning experiences? Engaging students in the learning process strengthens their attention and focus, motivates them to develop and practice higher-level thinking skills, and promotes a culture of collaboration and communication within the classroom and the school community. Educators establish a student-centered environment where class time is used for inquiry and application through real-world problem solving. Teachers cultivate relationships with students, in which students feel safe, take risks, and a culture of curiosity and excitement prevails. The teacher serves as a facilitator who guides each student through multiple learning opportunities by integrating technology, real-world problem solving experiences, collaboration and communication skills, and academic growth. As educators, engaging students may mean stepping out of the classroom and exploring the world around us. John Dewey once said, “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.”
Why should students be inspired to achieve? When I think of inspiration, there are four ladies that come to mind. My sixth grade teachers, Mrs. McNabb and Mrs. Pickelsimer, my Calculus teacher, Mrs. Benita Albert, and my piano teacher, Mrs. Rothermel, believed I could succeed. My teachers encouraged me to “stay the course” and that through productive struggle, I would succeed. Carol Dweck, a well-known psychologist, explains that a growth mindset can be developed by students when a teacher intentionally praises students’ efforts and perseverance. As educators, it is our responsibility to encourage students to try again if they don’t experience success the first time. As a matter of fact, students may have to try multiple times to reach their goals. Many students may not come to class with an eagerness to be challenged. However, teachers, parents, schools, and the community must work together to find multiple methods to develop challenging learning environments for the students and also allow the students to create learning environments in which they set standards to challenge themselves. Teach students to have courage. They might have to step out of their comfort zone but will grow leadership skills and self-confidence.
Why should students reflect upon their learning experiences? In a modern, global society information is available and changing quickly prompting users to constantly rethink, change directions, and examine many different types of problem solving strategies. Therefore, educators emphasize the importance of reflective thinking during learning to help students create strategies to apply new knowledge with prior understanding to complex situations and develop higher-order critical thinking skills. Allowing time for students to reflect when responding to questions, taking the time to review the learning situation on what is known, what is not known, and what has been learned is important in the learning process. When provided with a less structured learning environment, students are able to explore what they find to be important and work within a social-learning environment that allows students to see and hear other points of view. Reflective thinking centers on the process of making judgements through justification of solutions about what has occurred. Reflective thinking is essential for prompting learning during real-world problem solving in achieving goals and standards.
Are we there yet? I hope not. I want to continue to be a lifelong learner. John Dewey stated, “The most important attitude that can be formed is that of a desire to go on learning.” One’s lifelong journey is not about finally coming to the end. Instead, it is how the journey occurs along the way, and when examining the steps, goals, and outcomes that happen throughout the learning process, life becomes all the better.
Dr. Elaine Vaughan is a mathematics instructor at Oak Ridge High School for 20 years. She is a National Board Certified teacher, Professional Learning Communities Coach, and member of the Response to Intervention district and school board. Elaine is also a member of Delta Kappa Gamma and serves on the XI State Vision Board. Through this organization, she received both state and international scholarships. Elaine was a state mathematics textbook reviewer during the 2013-2014 school year. Elaine received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Mathematics Education from the University of Tennessee and her doctorate from Walden University. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.