We may think the best way to start the year is to have everything be smooth, predictable, and absent of any surprises. We plan, prepare, practice, and anticipate what will happen—we try to think of everything.
Yet, while predictability and precision may feel comfortable and reassuring, too much focus on getting everything perfect can work against our long-term success as the year unfolds. In fact, some mistakes and missteps early in the year can create a path to greater success and satisfaction. The key is to use our experiences to inform our thinking, adjust our strategies, and learn key lessons.
Rather than becoming preoccupied with perfection, we might consider making a few mistakes to gain important information, build understanding about what we may need to rethink, and open the door to some new behaviors. Here four “mistakes” to embrace:
Try a new engagement strategy with students, even if it does not work.
Your effort may not work as you intended, but you are likely to gain important information about what your students might find more engaging. You may also discover that it was not the strategy that was the problem; rather, the students may not have been properly prepared, may have been reluctant to try something that was unfamiliar, or may just need to become more comfortable with classmates and you before fully engaging. Regardless, you will have gained information that can guide future engagement strategies and activities.
Give students a little more responsibility than they can handle.
At first, this mistake may seem like one to avoid. After all, the project or assignment involved may not have led to the outcome you anticipated and hoped for. Yet, by giving students a little more autonomy and accountability than they could handle, you now know their current capacity to handle responsibility. Your goal to increase students’ capacity to become more independent and self-leading must start where students currently are. The information you gain can guide you in where to focus your attention and build going forward.
Let a lesson plan go in favor of something in which students are highly interested.
It can be difficult to let go of the plan you have developed for the day. You want to stay focused and on track with instruction, and getting behind early can create pressure and stress. On the other hand, occasionally following the interests and passions of students can lead to insights and discoveries about them that can make future teaching and learning more effective. Further, you will have sent a message to students that their interests matter. You may even find that the serendipitous learning that occurs during the detour is as useful and important as what you had planned for the day.
Take an evening or weekend day off, even though you have lots of work to do.
Intentionally making this “mistake” may be difficult because we have deadlines and want to stay caught up on our responsibilities and tasks. However, research and experience consistently point to the benefits of taking breaks, refocusing, and engaging in non-work activities. We may feel as though continuing to press and push is what conscientious professionals do. However, doing so means that we cannot replenish our energy, clear our minds, and gain perspective. The year ahead will ask much; it is important to set a healthy and sustainable pace now.
Of course, we want to avoid unnecessary mistakes, missteps, and setbacks. Still, mistakes can be the most productive learning experiences we encounter. The key is to understand that mistakes are opportunities to learn and move forward, not reasons to pull back and avoid risks.