Mistakes: “Stepping Stones to Success”

stepping stones

In school, as in life, learning doesn’t always happen immediately.  Sometimes it takes making mistakes more than once for learning to happen.  I’ve been inspired to write about this after reading an essay by Errol Sowers a friend and spiritual teacher at The Stillpoint Foundation who wrote on this subject just recently.  Errol calls our mistakes “stepping stones to success.”  (Here is a link to his essay  www.stillpoint.org/documentFiles/554.pdf?.)

Our children need to know that it is through making mistakes that learning occurs.  We teachers, counselors, para-professionals, parents, grandparents and other care takers must help our students/children realize this.  If the emphasis is on ‘getting it right,’ this can cause some children to become more fearful of ‘getting it right.’  So fearful that they freeze, can’t think clearly, lose any understandings that they know that might aid them in their task.  So what can we do to help our students/children know that making mistakes leads to learning?

Here are a couple of ideas:

1.  Make sure your students/children know that you don’t expect them to get the skill, information, understanding the first time they try.  The old saying, ‘practice makes perfect’ is one that surely applies here.  Let them know that each attempt is a “stepping stone to success” as Errol Sowers calls it.  There will be times when only a few stepping stones are needed and other times where there will be more steps taken to success.

2.  Make a point of acknowledging your own mistakes.  You might say, “Ooops looks like I made a mistake.  Can anyone find it?”  By doing this, you are showing your kids that even adults make mistakes, and by asking them if they see what is incorrect, you are giving them the opportunity to assist, to be the teacher, and reinforce their understanding.  If no one can help, then walk through the steps to ‘getting it right’ for them if you can.  You’ll be modeling the process for them, which may help them down the line.

3.  If  a student/child gets frustrated, encourage him/her to take a few deep breaths from deep in the belly then puff the air out on the exhalation.  Have him/her continue doing this until the puffs become shorter and softer.  Once the energies have calmed, he/she can go back to the task from a more relaxed place.   Success might be just a stepping stone away!  (See Dragon Breath in Creating the Peaceable Classroom Chapter 9,  page 102.)

Let’s help our students/children and remind ourselves that making mistakes is OK.  It’s Ok if we don’t get something right away.  Mistakes lead to learning.  What matters is what we learn through the mistakes, and that learning leads us to eventually ‘getting it right.’  We must be patient with ourselves, and that’s another topic . . . .

Best to you,



2 Responses to “Mistakes: “Stepping Stones to Success””

  • Laura says:

    HI Sandy,

    Great blog. I just had this conversation with a yoga teacher friend from MD. We were at an Adaptive Yoga training w/Matthew Sanford (http://www.mindbodysolutions.org/ ). My friend has a son in the 10th grade and his learning is challenged w/ADD. He is bright and is taking one AP class. This year he has “one” teacher that gets it. She wants all her students to “learn”. She allows her students to retake tests if their results were unsatisfactory. Students arrange the time within 2 days of receiving test grade. The opportunity is scheduled before or after school. Students who are motivated to “learn”, take advantage of the opportunity. When I taught as a Special Educator, I offered the same thing.

    Be Well,

    • Sandy says:

      Hello, Laura! Great to hear about your freind’s son’s classroom situation and yours when you were a Special Ed teacher. Makes me smile. Let’s hope more and more educators will follow suit! (I thought I had written to you earlier but guess it didn’t get posted or sent to you the first time. So sorry.)

      Best to you,

      Please spread the word about my site. There’ll be another post soon after a long absence due to a family crisis. Thanks.

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