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The Value of Mistakes

The Value of Mistakes
Caroline Hoffman
Faculty Blog Series

By: Shannon Ballinger, Educational Psychologist and Educational Support Lower School

With slumped shoulders and sad eyes, a young girl stared at the paper marked in red. A 12 year old boy had a brilliant idea to invent a tool that would help people in wheelchairs reach things more easily. He tried, it didn't work. He tried again, nope. The feeling of dread, disappointment, and discouragement can surround the act of making mistakes. Giving up and lack of motivation is often a result. You have all seen it and most likely have felt it.

In our society, mistakes are often seen as failure and the inability to accomplish the goal. The feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness will sometimes follow a mistake. A person may throw up his hands and decide to quit because he feels like he can't get it right the first time.

To understand the value of a mistake, it is important to realize that the value changes based on the type of mistake. When making the extended mistake, I might take a risk and push myself outside of my comfort zone. I take the challenge and when it doesn't quite work as expected, I ask why? There is great value in asking why. In my reflection, learning takes place and my brain grows. Another type is the careless mistake. This one does not produce the positive benefit. This mistake is made when I am sloppy, inattentive, and unfocused. It often causes frustration, and my brain remains the same.

I get a problem wrong on a math test. I misspell a word in a story, my experiment doesn't work in Science, I miss the turn when on a trip... All of these are examples of making a mistake. At the point of these mistakes there is a cross roads - I can give up or problem solve and learn. So to find value in mistakes, first determine the type. Then move forward by recognizing what you need to do in the situation to grow your brain.

If I give up, my brain remains as is; however, if I use critical thinking skills, problem solve, and think about what I did, why it didn't work, and what I can do differently, my brain will change. Like a muscle, it can become stronger. It's called metacognition - thinking about our thinking.

The extended mistakes need to be acknowledged, welcomed, and valued. We may not know something or get it right...yet. But each mistake brings us closer. Each mistake should build curiosity, determination, and perseverance. Embrace your mistakes and experience genuine success.

"A life spent making mistakes is not only most honorable but more useful than a life spent doing nothing" - George Bernard Shaw