At the beginning of every year, I do my best to cultivate a safe, welcoming environment for all my students. In the music room we create, play, sing, and perform often. Failing and making mistakes is a real fear for many of my students. So, when the topic arises, I take the time to address it.
I make sure they understand that in room 253, we encourage mistakes. Mistakes mean we are learning. In fact, I tell my students that I hope we fail in this classroom. At the beginning of the year I usually get a gasp and often times some silence when I say that. I quickly clarify that I am not trying to hurt their feelings. I explain that making mistakes and failing doesn't have to be a bad thing. Really, they are just forms of feedback. I always use myself as an example and say, "You know I make mistakes all the time, right?" Heads nod. Eyes bug out. Smiles appear. (My students know me well.) I explain that I'm human and while I like to be right all the time, I'm not. I make mistakes and I fail. It doesn't always feel good. I get frustrated and discouraged when things don't go the way I want them to. Still, I keep at it and reflect on my mistakes and when I do, I grow as a learner and often times find success. It's all part of the learning process.
And then today happened. I started to play a game with my students but worried someone would feel bad if they made a mistake so I reminded them how it's okay to make mistakes. Just then a student spoke up a said, "Mistakes mean you are learning" and another student said, "and we're only human." My heart grew a little bigger as I nodded and smiled. My message was heard.
If students feel safe and supported they will flourish. If students see a teacher that puts herself out there, shares her thinking and shares her failings, they too will be willing to take the leap. However, if we don't take a risk, try new things and make mistakes along the way, we will miss out on too much of the learning. So for that reason, I hope we make mistakes and fail along the way. It's just part of the learning process.