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Everybody makes mistakes…


Last Friday our podcast team welcomed a special guest into our virtual studio, the Governor of Connecticut M. Jodi Rell. We were very excited about being able to interview the highest ranking government official in our state. The kids decided to invite her about a month ago and after a few emails back and forth a date and time was settled. This was set to be a “virtual” interview using skype to her land-line. I should add that the kids pick who they want to interview and do all the correspondence necessary to secure a date and time themselves. I do peek over their shoulder, but they are in control.

When the interview started I think everyone was a bit nervous. You have to imagine a small little table with a laptop being used to call and record, another laptop for the interviewers to receive questions from the listening audience, two big microphones, headsets on everyone, a big mixer to bring all the audio together, wires everywhere, and four kids and myself connected to all of those wires. It is a bit of a choatic scene. The interview started and immediatly we knew we had a sound problem. We could hear her clearly, but she was having trouble hearing us. Then someone botched the introduction, two kids started talking at once, one kid mispronounced a word in one of the questions, and the person receiving questions from the audience read the wrong one which was no longer connected to what she was talking about. Because of the sound issue, we had to tell the Governor of Connecticut that we would have to hang-up and call her back to see if we could get a better connection.

During those first five minutes my face turned red, I was making all sorts of faces at the kids, and pointing all sorts of fingers. After having problems trying to call her back, we finally got connected and it was clear from the Governors voice that she was much happier now that she could hear us clearly.

At the end of the interview I was ticked off over what had happended during the first five minutes and let the kids know it. I couldn’t let it go. Something along the lines of “We only have one chance to interview people and we can’t afford mistakes.”

After they left for their next class I thought about what I did and said…

You have to realize how incredibly hard it is to interview someone. Just because you have seen hundreds of interviews on TV, trust me…being on either end of a interview is so much harder than you would realize. Multiply the difficulty rating by 100 when you can’t see the person you are talking to. The amount of adreniline shooting through you as the call is being placed is awesome, staying clam and thinking clearly is real hard to do…especially if you are a kid and you have only done one other interview. You are think about what they said, what they are saying, and what you think they will say next so that you can ask the prepared questions and the spontaneous questions from the audience in a manner that allows the interview to flow seamlessly.

So after rewinding my emotions I reprocessed the interview…

The interview starts and it’s hard to hear and everyone knows the governor is upset about it from the tone of her voice (the podcast is edited, we took out much of the beginning!). A kid messes up the introduction, no one besides us would notice, he stays calm and flawlessly picks up and continues. Two kids talk at the same time and immediatly coomunicate with their bodies as to who should continue and they stay calm and composed and go with it. The Governor is obvioulsy getting a bit ticked at not being able to her us but the kids stay calm and show great patience in trying to help her understand the questions. We have to stop the call to try to get a better connection. When trying to call her back four times the call doesn’t go through. The teacher was using the wrong area code…grrrr. While the teacher is busy messing up because he is losing his cool the are calmly re-organizing for the rest of the interview.

There were five people at our table. Only four acted professionally…my four kids. They were under control the entire time, and I am the one who turned red and lost it.

What did I learn? When I was done reflecting I realized how ridiculuous my actions and thoughts were. Even they get it–mistakes will be made, you learn from them and move on.

I think we all need to remember that we might be teaching something for the 15th year in a row, but to the kids it’s the first time. We can see the problem we are going over with them from hundreds of angles. We tell them to present and we have hundreds of ideas from experience in our head. We have to remember that for them it’s the first time and simple mistakes will be made. They are suppose to be made. A basketball coach does not expect a team to run a play perfectly the first time. Teachers need to remember that perfection will not occur immediatly. I think if we are doing our job properly, mistakes, should probably outnumber successes. I wonder about student products that are produced that have no mistakes. Shouldn’t an entire unit and final product be full of mistakes? Wouldn’t that show kids pushing themselves beyond their limits? If you give kids a challenging unit and there are no mistakes in the final product, was it appropriately challenging? By expecting perfection do we minimize the challenge?…do we eliminate the risk?…do we extinguish true learning?

I should finish by saying that I gathered the interview team together at the end of the day and apoligized. Told them I was proud of the fact that they held it together, showed great poise, and had a terrific interview, and was sorry for my words and actions. They are a super bunch of kids and if you ever get the chance, follow our tweets and join them live for an interview one day. The never cease to amaze me.

Interview with the Governor is below, or you can go to our site.

Everybody makes mistakes. Even Miley gets it 😉

14 comments

  1. For me, it’s always realizing that kids can see their mistakes, but not know how to correct them. During presentations I am more than able to point out ways to improve. However, in the following weeks I don’t ever take the time to teach them how to correct the mistakes, I guess I sort of expect them to figure it out on their own.

    Everyone can improve, even the teachers…

  2. Dear Paul,

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and tell you about a wonderful tool I learned about just this past year, because I too have similar tendencies to get bent out of shape when things don’t go right and I’m put into potentially embarrassing situations. It’s called the Litany of Humility. While it is a Christian prayer, I think it applies to anyone who suffers when they are embarrassed, bad mouthed, put-down, etc. I think if we can get beyond worrying what other people think of us, even governors, we are in a wonderful position to do our best work. Do you agree?

  3. Great blog. I often have to remind myself in September and October that the students I now have are not the students I had in June. They do not know how to do all the things my students learned last year and I cannot expect them to even pick up technology skills as quickly. I think your students had a very valuable learning experience, both from the problems that occurred during the interview and from your apology afterwards. We all make mistakes and it’s helpful for the students to learn how to deal with them.

  4. I love this post. So many times teachers feel just because they taught something once means the students should be able to do it perfectly, but that won’t always be the case. And it’s not the students fault or the teaching.. sometimes we just need to find the patience to allow students to make mistakes and find their own answers so they can truly understand the task!

  5. You make a lot of good points here. But don’t disparage the “perfect” final product so much. It may well be the results of kids learning how to correct their mistakes and redoing it, and redoing it. There are far too many first-draft-is-final-draft kids in college. They need to make mistakes *and* learn that they need to fix them.

    1. Well said, Kevin. In my classroom, the rule is published pieces must be “perfect” or as close to perfect as the kids can get it. This means “good enough” never is and editing takes a great deal of time.

      1. @Kevin I should have probably explained “perfect.” Perfect doesn’t refer to spelling or editing errors. Perfect refers to taking a creative chance or pushing the boundaries of thesis. Also I have found that even with “simple” mistakes, reflecting on them in a “published” draft makes much more of an impact and leads to change faster than changing them in a rough draft.

        Also @Lisa…I wonder if having 100 kids changes my perspective a bit. We just published movies. I simply could not watch 100 of them before publishing. I can’t help catch all the problems before they go out to the world.

        I also think there is a difference between making mistakes because you are not prepared, and being prepared and still making mistakes. The second is ok…not being prepared and then making mistakes is a no no.

  6. Thank you Paul. I have enjoyed your blog so much this year and this post is no exception.
    Interestingly I discovered and listened to your kids podcast before reading your post and had no idea that you were the teacher behind this fabulous learning.

    p.s. I found the @ltlpodcast because they/you followed me on Twitter – Thank you

  7. Great post, Paul.

    Knowing how to handle oneself when it all hits the fan is one of the top ten skills needed for my job and those all of my colleagues (and I’m not even talking about parenting here, lol). Heck, its requisite to LIFE! You are not conducting an orchestra — you are interacting with human beings, who were interacting with human beings — toss in technology and you have to know, sooner or later its all going to hit the fan and it will all come down to how it is handled when it does. Ah, the richness of mistakes — mistakes will even be made when handling the mistakes! The beauty of it! In my experience (and I have a LOT of “perfection baggage”) the more forgiving we are of our own mistakes, the more forgiving others are of our mistakes. Then there’s the whole realm of “divine mistakes” — those that alter our paths in ways previously unimaginable. Mistakes opening us up to find solutions, new ways of thinking, we never would have seen if everything had gone “right”.

    All of the comments here have been wonderful. Thank you Bill for the gift of the litany of humilty – I’ll be changing that up to make it my own. Really, so much of our aversion to making mistakes is the humiliation factor — so much to say about why that is so and how schooling plays a role…but alas, I’ll end my comments here.

      1. I think we miss out on so much of life because we fear looking foolish, being ridiculed, etc. Our students miss out on being involved in learning for the same reason.

        I think maybe we, as adults, can model a life philosophy for our kids when we don’t take ourselves so seriously, and allow them to see us make and recover from some mistakes that we make from time to time.

        1. I had a conversation with one of my classes last week about how I really don’t know exactly what I am doing. Our class is a constant experiment. Somethings we do will be fabulous successes and we will carry those on to the next project. Other things we do will be glorious failures that we will learn from and be able to bring that wisdom to the next project that we do.

          I think the key word you used is model. We don’t have to teach that there is value in making mistakes…all we have to do is model it…but model sounds somewhat, umm…somewhat like acting…we simply have to live it, be it.

  8. I read this and the first thing I could think about was “been there done that!” I went wacko after I lost my teenage sped students at the zoo and screamed at them like a banshee (the first time in my life that I’ve ever done that). Then I find out from an off duty cop about how wonderfully behaved they were when they were without me etc. I felt awful. I also had to eat crow and apologize to them. Now, 20 years later, these students still keep in contact with me and say, “Remember the zoo!”

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