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Expecting and Accepting Mistakes (Part 1)

“The most important learning is the ability to accept and expect mistakes.”  – Fred Rogers

Roycemore School recently partnered with Rotary International, Northwestern University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy to show the film Won’t You Be My Neighbor to the Evanston community.  This was the second time I had seen the film and this time I wrote down a couple of quotes from Fred Rogers that really resonated with me.  The one above particularly struck me. I asked myself the question “what happens in a culture that both expects and accepts mistakes?” I then began compiling a list of what came to mind.  One of the first thoughts that came to mind is that this is exactly what we expect of babies. They don’t know better. We absolutely expect them to make mistakes.  In fact, there can only be limited learning without mistakes. And in a loving environment where infants are encouraged and mistakes are applauded as progress, babies thrive. Shouldn’t we extend this same philosophy to later stages of development?  Shouldn’t some mistakes be lauded for the learning experiences they provide?

In this post, I will share my thoughts on what happens in a culture where mistakes are expected.

  • We plan for things to go wrong, having somewhat of a lawyer’s mindset, and think through the implications of what could go wrong.
  • We build in extra time for the development and completion of a project or task.
  • When we expect mistakes, we automatically become more resilient because we are not devastated when a mistake takes place.
  • There is a willingness to take more risks and we are less fearful about taking those risks. As a result, there is a tendency toward greater innovation as we are not stymied by the fear of failure.
  • An exciting culture of problem solving and creativity is generated.
  • We recognize that there may not be a straight path from A to Z, rather there can be many possibilities.
  • We are far more likely to avoid catastrophes as we have built in contingency plans if we do not achieve the original goal or outcome.
  • There is a greater openness to new opportunities that come along.  We are ready to capitalize on those opportunities.

Fred Rogers, in a simple statement, succinctly articulated what a great, and exciting, learning environment should possess. Whether in a school or a business, when we expect mistakes as a critical component of learning, we grow.Next week, what happens in a culture where mistakes are accepted.

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