Learn from Mistakes

Use our own and students’ mistakes as learning opportunities

Believing we are obliged to have all the answers all the time can put a lot of pressure on teachers. This is especially true on equity issues. We have all learned false information about marginalized groups and none of us can completely eradicate old habits of thinking and behaving. Furthermore, life and human interactions continually present us with new and unanticipated challenges and situations to which we must respond.

Teachers (like everyone) are bound to make assumptions about what is “normal”. We may make assumptions about ethnicity, culture, language, religion, sexual orientation, gender and gender identity, physical and intellectual ability, age and a host of other assumptions that we all make every day. When we make a statement that excludes someone, we can communicate through our reaction to our own words that it’s alright to make mistakes when we acknowledge them (see Positive Modeling). Teachers can engage students in exploring the statement, for example:

  • "Hmm, I really made a big assumption there. Can anyone tell me what it was?"
  • "Can anyone tell me who was left out in what I just said?"

This can set the tone, creating a collaborative climate in which students understand that everyone is learning, changing and growing toward greater equity and inclusion together. Acknowledging one’s own mistakes lays the groundwork so that teachers can respectfully and non-judgmentally challenge students on their assumptions as well.