The Value of Teacher Mistakes

Growth mindset.  It’s okay to fail.  Grit.  There’s a lot of talk these days about helping students to make mistakes, to try things and fail, to persevere.  And these are definitely important lessons for our students.

But they’re also important lessons for us, as teachers.

We all remember the teacher(s) who were “never wrong.”  The ones who would never conceded a student was right or that they had made a mistake.

Of course, we’re not like that.  We accept our mistakes… right?  We should.  We should also take these learning opportunities to model growth mindset, failure, and grit for our students.


Here is the value of teacher mistakes:

  1.  It reinforces the concept that it’s okay to fail.  Even teachers, with all our knowledge and expertise, even we can make mistakes.   Big and little ones.  Typos, forgotten tasks, or things (lessons even) that just don’t turn out how we expect them to.  And that’s okay.  Which goes with the next point…slide3
  2. It can provide an opportunity to problem solve.  I have invited students to discuss why they think a planned lesson or activity went awry.  They tend to enjoy having a voice (sounds a little like some Danielson sort of thing with student involvement) and getting to share their thoughts.  And quite often, they can see factors that I may not have in implementation or even classroom dynamics.  In addition, the process of discussing it is modeling problem-solving and reflection.
  3. We can model for students ways to accept mistakes in healthy and appropriate ways.  We can show how to use humor and laugh at our selves, like with typos on a lesson not carefully proofread, not that I do THIS regularly! More importantly, we can model for students how to accept responsibility for choices and consequences.  For a starter phrase, I have come to like the phrase, “My bad.”  It accepts responsibility (it is mine) but doesn’t have to dwell on it (which can help with some saving of face or pride issues.)  Or we can address it simply, “I am late because I couldn’t find my phone.  I should be more careful where I put it while getting ready for work.”  It addresses the problem and notes a reflective solution, showing students the way.  We don’t have to dwell on it– and if you have one of those students who tries to, a curt reminder that we have moved on can be effective (as can ignoring.)  slide2
  4. We can also show how to apologize for sub-par performance or results, such as telling students, “I’m sorry.  This lesson was supposed to this other way, but it didn’t work out as I had planned.  Thank you for your understanding.”  It’s useful to acknowledge high expectations, of our selves and of our position.  You can even note to students that, chances are, they will too, in a job, fail to meet expectations, and it’s nice to be prepared with language to appropriately handle it.  (This can also be helpful for students who struggle with perfectionism– by giving them some rudimentary tools for addressing failure to meet high expectations.)  In an era full of celebrity non-apologies (that are more like “I’m sorry I was caught” than “I’m sorry I made poor choices and hurt people”), we can model another option, with more integrity.
  5. Lastly, it can help show that teachers are human.  While many of us are better at this than teachers we recall from our formative years, it’s still an important factor.  Not just that we smile before Christmas or have interests or a sense of humor.  But that we make mistakes, dust ourselves off, and continue on.

Of course, we should still strive for those high expectations and work to minimize preventable errors (like those silly typos…), but there’s great value in the teachable moments when we do make a mistake.  And we all make mistakes.

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