As students show up on the first few days of school, not only are they bringing their questions and school supplies, they are also bringing their fears and anxieties. Fear can be a disabling emotion that stifles even the simplest of actions. Testing anxieties, low grades and negative comments by peers as well as adults can create fear-based performance which only exacerbates the anxieties. A student can very easily become stuck in this vicious cycle. Adults in the school and classroom can help students ease their anxieties by creating a positive environment that welcomes mistakes.
How we (teachers and other adults) respond to students’ mistakes can determine how they interact with us. While growing up, do you recall getting yelled at or embarrassed for making a mistake? How did that make you feel?
I recall a writing assignment I had in the seventh grade where we had to write about our goals and aspirations. I wrote about my goals and aspirations, but explained how it could appear that I wasn’t trying to work towards them because of family issues that were going on at home. It was during a time when my grades had dropped and it seemed that I had no motivation to do anything about it. I vividly remember the relief I felt to be able to talk about this with someone…so I thought. Much to my surprise, in front of the entire class, the teacher began to chastise me about my grades and reveal things I had written in the assignment. She finished off her tirade by telling me that I wasn’t smart. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! Of course some of the students were giggling. I had never felt so embarrassed and ridiculed in my life. I couldn’t just walk out, my mom would have killed me. I was taught to always respect adults, so I just sat there taking what felt like body blows. I don’t recall what happened after that because I went numb. I’m sure I didn’t hear a word of the lesson. I was mummy like until it was time to leave. I was so ashamed that I never told anyone what happened, but it affected me for what seems like a lifetime. My already weak confidence was now in the gutter and I began to see people differently. I was always a dreamer, but suddenly the dreams were filled with constant sadness. My point (yes I have a point) is that we have the power to uplift or to crush. We should ALWAYS CHOOSE TO UPLIFT.
When students make a mistake in your classroom, simply ask the student how he/she came up with their response. A simple conversation can reveal: misconceptions, a sheer genius way of thinking and it gives students voice. Encourage students to participate even if they are not sure of the answer. Don’t make such a big deal about the wrong answers. Redirect the student and help the student problem solve. For struggling students, try and put them in situations where they can experience success. Laugh, have fun. Rather than always focusing on mistakes, celebrate what the student is doing write…in front of others.
School should be about great experiences students are able to learn from while thinking critically. Create assignments that allow students to use their gifts and talents. Get out of the classroom and learn outside. Use calming colors and positive words around the room. Try something in the class you’ve always wanted to try. I would love to hear about “the magic” that you’ve created or plan to create in your classroom. As always, I appreciate your dedication to our youth and education.