Teaching Students the Power of MistakesOne of the most enjoyable parts of my summer was sitting down with my daughter to do her first-grade summer reading. We read together regularly, so the experience itself was not a new one. Same couch, same seats, same hands (hers on the left, mine on the right) holding the book open, same stuffed animal listening attentively.Yet, the fact that she was now taking responsibility for learning in a new way was not lost on either of us. Sharing this rite of passage transformed the ordinary and familiar into something sacred.

Together we read The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes by Merk Pett and Gary Rubinstein. Within its pages we met Beatrice Bottomwell, the girl who never made mistakes. Beatrice always said "thank you" and never forgot to make her bed. She always matched her socks, remembered her homework and put the perfect amount of peanut butter and jelly on her brother's sandwich. And for all this and more, she was known. In fact, most people in town did not even know her name. They just called her "the Girl who Never Makes Mistakes." Because that was who she was.

Beatrice has some near misses, "almost mistakes," that shake her; and, at the pinnacle moment of the story [spoiler alert] she makes a mistake, an embarrassing one, in a very public way.

As it turns out, making a mistake changes Beatrice for the better. She becomes more relaxed and open to trying new things. She faces each new day with less anxiety and a bigger smile. And, she becomes known as Beatrice because that is really who she is.

At Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston, as part of an initiative to promote learning and reduce anxiety, we are studying the work of Carol Dweck. In her book Mindset, Dweck demonstrates how learners who adopt what she calls a fixed mindset aspire for perfection. For them, errors and mistakes are evidence of their limitations and, when they make them, they lose confidence in themselves and they give up. Those who have a growth mindset view these moments as opportunities to learn and grow. They take the time to reflect upon their work and misunderstandings so that they can do better in the future. And they do.

Dweck teaches that parents, teachers and coaches have significant influence over the mindset that children will adopt. The implication: we can teach our children to have a growth mindset. At Schechter, this is what we hope to do.

At Schechter Boston, we emphasize reflective practice and critical thinking across our curriculum. We challenge our students not only to learn, but also to reflect upon the learning process and upon how they learn. Students are taught that writing is a process which includes rewriting because it takes more than one try to craft a message. Students are given homework in math to help them identify that which they do not yet fully understand rather than to demonstrate mastery, so it is okay to turn in an assignment that is not perfect.  

At the center of this approach is the belief that everyone can learn and grow and that the path to success includes overcoming obstacles.  

The new school year is off and running. The joyful sounds of learning can again be heard in the classrooms and corridors of Schechter. In the coming weeks and months, students will be challenged to learn and grow. They will find some challenges easy to master and others more difficult. The key to their success lies in the mindset that they adopt. Together, we can model a growth mindset and help them embrace challenges as opportunities and to pursue learning, not perfection. Doing so will help them, as it did for Beatrice, to be more open and relaxed and ultimately to thrive.

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