Tuesday, August 17, 2021

"Misnakes" Are OK

Source: "Learning From Mistakes: Helping Kids See the Good 
Side of Getting Things Wrong"

By Sam Piha

When I was a classroom teacher, I always had a large sign that read, “Misnakes are OK.” Early in the year my students would eventually ask if I misspelled the word “mistakes”. I would reply that I misspelled the word intentionally to emphasize that mistakes are ok. 

Most people, particularly older youth, are often ashamed or embarrassed if they make a mistake publicly. It’s no wonder that many are afraid to engage to avoid the shame and judgement that comes with mistakes.

Embracing our mistakes is an important part of a growth mindset. GoZen, an online social emotional learning resource, writes, “Carol Dweck rocked the world of education with her research into something she called a Growth Mindset: the belief that a person’s basic abilities can be improved by hard work and determination. A growth mindset is central to a love of learning, perseverance and resiliency. Adopting a growth mindset also allows adults and kids to reframe mistakes into learning opportunities, making them less frightening and less debilitating.” (see LIAS Blog on Growth Mindsets).

I say to myself that I never lose, that I only learn. Because when you lose, you have to make a mistake to lose that game. So you learn from that mistake, and so you learn [overall]. So losing is the way of winning for yourself."- Tanitoluwa Adewumi, America’s 10- year- old Chess Master

And, we are more than our mistakes. Afterschool programs are particularly good at helping youth see themselves as more than their mistakes or school grades.

I particularly struggled with math. But after-school activities redefined the school for me. It wasn’t just the place where I failed my first test. It was where I learned how to sew. And I wasn’t just a person with a bad grade. I was a dancer.- Meril, 17- year- old student

How do afterschool workers view their own mistakes? How do young people in your program think about mistakes? How are program staff trained to address the times when youth may make a mistake? I asked these questions to several afterschool leaders and share their responses below.

Carol Tang,
ED Children's Creativity Museum,
former Director, Coalition for
Science After School
Carol Tang -If you take a step back and look at science, it's not about facts and figures or rote memorization. If you think about what scientists do- they are active, hands on, they make things and break things, they talk to their peers, learn from their mistakes and get better through time.

Autrilla Gillis,
Director of Expanded Learning,
ISANA Academies
Autrilla Gillis -I think that mistakes identify areas of opportunity for both young people and staff. Often times both staff and young people view mistakes as failures, while in reality mistakes are opportunities to try again with targeted supports or a focused action plan to improve the results.

From the district level, mistakes identify areas of future professional development for my staff and I. We veer away from vilifying staff members and instead investigate what led to the mistake, using our findings to determine whether an individual, school site, or district wide training should occur to ensure that the mistake is avoided in the future. 

Addressing mistakes is one of the most common conversations our staff encounters. Whether the mistakes involve academic feats, student responses to personality clashes, or poor decision making. As adults, we’ve taken the stance that young people must be empowered to work through their mistakes so that they acquire that skill, one that they’ll use for the rest of their lives. 

For our youngest scholars it begins with one-on-one conferences that utilize visuals and worksheets to help students identify the root causes of their decision making that led to the mistake, next we set goals to avoid making the same mistake when the situation is encountered again. As our scholars progress through grade levels we increase the reflective aspect of the process by incorporating journaling and peer support. It is rewarding to see scholars encounter mistakes and work their way through the same process using “self-talk” to get themselves through. 

Rebecca Fabiano
President & Founder,
FAB Youth Philly

Rebecca Fabiano - “'Mistakes are Ok!; Take accountability for, and learn from your mistakes!'

That is the first line of our guiding principles, which we recite in a call and response fashion when we come together as a group. One person chanting the first part, the rest of us responding the second part. We actually changed it this fall to this current statement from 'Mistakes are Ok!; It’s Ok to ask a lot of questions' because we wanted to focus more on accountability and learning. 

The original statement was part of a job description for college interns; we wanted them to really see their time with us as a learning experience and that we didn’t expect them to know everything right away or to even ‘get’ everything the first time, which is why we encourage asking questions. Several interns noted that very sentence was why they wanted to work at Fab Youth Philly (FYP).

We also ask about mistakes during interviews as we see mistakes as teachable moments. As a learning organization, we are constantly making mistakes in part because we are also risk-takers, we are somewhat nontraditional in some of our work and so there are bound to be mistakes made. We also primarily work with teens for whom it is their first job being employed by us so we want them to develop a ‘muscle’ around mistake making, but also seeing mistakes as an opportunity.

The way staff addresses mistakes varies from staff, to staff, and sometimes has to do with confidence and experience. But all of us TRY to approach it as a teachable moment. The more experienced staff tend to see right away the opportunity for learning, and working with the teen to address the issue, as opposed to blaming or shaming. Sometimes as adults, we need coaching too, around suggestions for how to support teens when they make a mistake.  


Mistakes are a natural part of learning, but students cannot develop into critical thinkers if they regularly freeze out of the fear of making a mistake.”- Colin Seale, Thinking Like a Lawyer 

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