Monday, January 13, 2014

I Hope You Mess Up Big Time or Why Failure is Good For You

Today is the day!  All the students come back to campus and the spring semester begins.  I, of course, worked last week also, but it was fairly quiet with not a lot to do.  This week we jump right back into the swing of things.  And for the most part, I prefer it that way.  There's more to do with the students back.  And I love my student workers!  We hire the best on campus and they are great to work with!

I have been a bit of a mentor to some of these students as they have come through for their (too few) semesters with us.  I have truly enjoyed getting to know them and being able to hear about their lives.  They have babysat for my kids and used them to practice giving their educational assessments.  In return they have asked me for advice as a mother and wife.  Let me make it clear though: I am not old enough to BE their mother!! :) Just wanted to get that out of the way.

My Twitter handle came from one of my former (sniff!) students who started called me Mama Rab.  I have been asked about how to cook a roast, how to get a stain out, where to get a good deal.  I have loaned out my vehicle, read over lesson plans and lovingly submitted glowing references.  I love these kids!!

So when one of them (she knows I'm going to write this) asked me a question about a lesson plan, and indicated that she was really worried she would mess it up, she was a little shocked with my response.

"Honestly.  I hope you do mess it up!"

I promise, I said it and meant it with all the love in my heart!  And I did go on to explain, though maybe not in these exact words: Go out and try something.  Make a mistake.  Look at what happened. Analyze what you did and how it when wrong.  Then pick up and do it again better the next time.

I mentioned on Friday that I had recently messed up at work.  It was not the end of the world and no one was ever mad at me.  And now I know better and will (hopefully) not make that mistake again. There have been a few other times here that I have messed up.  One of them that comes to mind was actually a much bigger mistake.  The kind where I (and of course everyone else) get emails that say, "If this happens again, you will lose your _________ privileges." Yikes!!  Don't want that to happen!! I actually had to go sit down with my boss and go over how I had messed up and ask for his help in fixing it.  And his reaction?  "So what did you learn here?"  No yelling, no shame, none of that!

I know that everyone is not fortunate enough to work in such an environment.  I am also not wishing BIG/ life altering mistakes on anyone, but I truly believe that everyone should mess up a few times, just to see how it works.

In the case of the student I was speaking with, she was afraid of bombing a big lesson in front of her class.  Her fear seemed to make her want to play it safe in everything she taught.  Her fear was "what if it doesn't work?"  My response to that is "What if?"  What is the very worst that could happen?  It might be embarrassing. The kids might laugh. The supervisor or principal might think you are a little bit off.

The next step is the most important though.  What do you do immediately after a failure?  Do you hide? Try to cover it up? Pretend it never happened? Those options won't get you anywhere and might, in fact, get you in more trouble that you would have been.

The thing to do when you've messed up is to own up to it and come up with a plan to fix it.  If your lesson plan bombed, tell the students that your experiment didn't work or your examples weren't right.  Tell the students how you messed up and how you intend to fix it and in the end you will have taught them twice!

It's the same in the parenting world.  Frances often comes to me to ask, "what if..." She gets mad when I turn the question right back on her.   Sometimes she'll be in the middle of a project and ask me if she should "do it this way or go that way."  So I tell her to pick one and try it. She gets frustrated because I won't give her the answer, but I know that letting her figure it out and fix her own mistake, if necessary, will teach her more than me just giving her the answers.

In the end I think mistakes are good learning tools.  I hope that my kids do mess up and I hope they learn from their mistakes.  I hope that I am always patient and understanding enough to support them in their decisions and to help them re-evaluate and start over when necessary.

Have you even messed up? Did you learn something valuable from the experience?

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